'We shouldn't have to hide depression, it's not a weakness'
MOST are unwinding on a Sunday afternoon, but for one young local, in the depths of her darkness, relaxation was far from her mind.
The road seemed long, the sky pitch black. She wanted to end her pain.
Mixed emotions were felt as she drove along a familiar, local road.
"I felt a sense of relief, I almost felt numb, I felt like it's going to be over, the anxiety will be gone," she said.
This woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, admits she was experiencing a number of personal issues leading up to the thought of taking her own life.
"I remember being really down and I thought, 'you know what, I'm going to end this, I'm going to the lookout and I'm going to jump,'" she said.
At the time she felt as though ending her life was the only option.
But, what she didn't realise was in that split second she would create a world of pain for those she had left behind.
An enormous loss would have been felt by many - the loss of a child, a sister, a granddaughter, a niece, a friend, a colleague.
This community would have lost another precious citizen to suicide.
Leading up to the thought of taking her own life, this Mackay woman said she felt down, she didn't want to do anything, she was sleeping all the time, and had to take a week off work as she felt as though she wasn't in a good headspace to face normal, daily activities.
In those exact minutes before hitting rock bottom she felt sick in the stomach, calm and lifeless.
However, luckily for her, in a split second her thinking changed.
"It's hard to explain, it was like a switch flipped in my head and I thought of my mum, my dad, my brother and my friends, and everyone who would be in complete shock," she said.
"Everyone in my life knows I have anxiety but definitely not that I was suicidal or depressed, so it would be such a shock to them.
"I just thought of all those people and how much I would've hurt them, and that's what really pulled me back. I stayed empowered through it, not for myself, but for the people around me."
This local woman admits telling her family was the hardest part of all.
After all, what parent wants to hear that their child doesn't want to be in this world anymore?
"I will never forget the look on my mum and dad's face, watching them break down and cry," she said.
In the week following the event, she was on suicide watch and required constant supervision from loved ones.
After receiving overwhelming support from a psychologist, Mackay Base Hospital mental health nurses, family and close friends, she was able to feel safe in the hands of those who truly care.
Although she admits discussing her issues at the time made a big difference, she said still hides a lot of what she experienced on that day, but believes we shouldn't have to.
"People think those who are suicidal, anxious or depressed are unstable and we have to feel sorry for them, which is wrong," she said.
"I am still the person that I was, I'm confident and I'm friendly.
"I'm pretty good at hiding things, but we shouldn't have to hide it, it's not a weakness."
Recent statistics reveal that many young adults are unaware that they are living with mental health problems, with Headspace revealing that high suicide rates in early to mid-adulthood are related to untreated mental health problems in the late teenage and early adult years.
Furthermore, only one in four young people experiencing mental health problems actually receive professional help.
And even among young people with the most severe mental health problems only 50% receive professional help.
On a national scale this issue is rapidly claiming the lives of thousands of Australians each year.
The most recent data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals that in 2015 there was an average of 8.3 deaths by suicide in Australia each day.
Equalling 3027 deaths by suicide in Australia in 2015, and of those deaths 2,292 were male and 735 female.
Organisations such as Lifeline have highlighted these statistics and wish to do more to reduce the number of deaths by suicide.
In a recent statement cited on the Lifeline Australia website, CEO Pete Shmigel said:
"We do not want 3000 lives lost to be the new tragic benchmark when it comes to deaths by suicide each year in Australia.
"We as a sector and community are failing our most vulnerable and we must do more and do better.
"This means starting a national conversation about how we can respond differently.
"While we're prescribing more medication for mental illness than ever before - including a doubling in the rate of antidepressant use since 2000 - we are not doing enough to combat social factors that lead so many to choose death over living.
"Instead, we need to focus on asking people less of 'what's wrong with you?' and more of 'what's happening for you and how can I unconditionally support you?'
"After all, there's no magic pill for loneliness, social isolation, relationship breakdowns and other personal crises."
Not just a national issue, suicide is claiming the lives of numerous Mackay locals.
Local practitioner of Esoteric Therapies, Belinda Jane Hodgson said she comes across suicide all the time as an issue that closely affects many members of our community.
"On average, every 10 days, someone takes their life in Mackay, and every year anywhere between 600 and 800 present at local hospitals with symptoms of an attempt," she said.
Belinda Jane believes one life lost can affect 50 or more people around them, and she insists we start paying close attention to our mental health.
"Humanity needs to get serious about being responsible for their mental and emotional health, just like nutritious food and exercise is a responsible way to look after our physical health," she said.
"We can't keep living our lives ignoring ourselves or each other, we have a heart that feels and none of us have perfect lives.
"Sometimes we need to talk and connect with one another as a way of releasing negative thoughts, hurts, disappointments and stresses from the body."
Belinda Jane's feeling and experience, through her role as a practitioner, is that suicide particularly affects those that have lived disconnected to who they truly are for too long.
"Depressing, dark, morbid and directionless energy fills them instead of the loving energy we are actually made of," she said.
"Our way of living, especially our fast paced, demanding lives which are more about 'what we do' instead of 'who we are,' means people get exhausted and get ignored."
She believes we are ignored on a daily basis and more often than not, most of us are too busy to realise it.
"Observe this one day, how often are you ignored and not acknowledged by people in everyday circumstances like shopping, putting petrol in the car or passing someone in the street?" she said.
Belinda Jane believes as human beings we are meant to live connected to ourselves and others in the community.
She said many people don't get help because they don't fully understand how it can assist them.
"It is like they are too deeply caught in their patterns and really need someone from outside to notice and step in and help them get assistance," she said.
Belinda Jane believes people shy away from giving and receiving assistance when it comes to issues of an emotional nature.
"If someone was physically stuck in a hole we would reach out and pick them up, and we would feel okay to receive that help, but as soon as something is 'emotional' some of us become reluctant to either receive or give help," she said.
Unfortunately for those reluctant to speak up and receive help, suicide may seem like the only option.
In Australia, there are 65,000 suicide attempts every year and 370,000 Australians will think about taking their own lives.
Costing our nation over $17.5 billion each year, suicide claims the life of one Australian every three to four hours, with an attempt every eight minutes.
Claiming more lives each year in Australia than road accidents, 1 in 17 Australians will consider suicide this year.
But, through the hard work of a dedicated local and her committee, it is hoped Mackay and surrounding communities may see a reduction in future numbers of death by suicide.
Barber by trade, suicide prevention advocate by choice, Jo Shanks is doing everything in her power to reduce the stigma associated with speaking up.
"You show me a family anywhere that hasn't had a mental health issue somewhere in the family, I'm talking bipolar or depression or anxiety or post-natal depression," she said.
"It's everywhere and still it's that thing we just don't know what to do about, or how to express that we're struggling."
Whilst there may be differing triggers towards someone choosing to end their own life, Jo sincerely believes the real problem for many is their reluctance to speak up and reach out to those around them.
"There is a part of it that is illness, but it's the stigma that actually kills people," she said.
"The illness is treatable, it's that fear of being judged, of not being taken seriously, of being degraded.
"We need to cut the stigma out of it and bring it to the table as a conversation that's allowed to happen."
Jo also believes the current ratio of men to women in Mackay may also have great influence on the suicide rate in the region.
"I think that Mackay has a very high concentration of men, we are changing a little bit now, but it's still generally a male orientated population here," she said.
"I think it's to do with the lifestyle, the mining, but apart from that, it's the numbers game."
After losing her younger brother to suicide in 2012, Jo decided to start a local campaign, "Run For MI Life," to raise awareness towards suicide and to show the community that it is okay to speak up.
Since the first event was held in 2014, Run For MI Life has spread to three locations and has donated over $150,000.00 to various mental health groups.
Over the last two years it has donated $75,000.00 to Grapevine Group Mackay, $10,000.00 to Beyond Blue, $5,000.00 to Black Dog and $5,000.00 to YIRS One Stop Youth Shop, an achievement of which Jo and her volunteers are very proud.
The Run for MI Life which attracts thousands of locals to its three locations in Moranbah, Glenden and Walkerston, invites locals to come together, as a community to socialise and participate in a fun run covering various distances, to suit all fitness levels.
A long term goal of Jo's and her committee is to rollout the Run For MI Life program in multiple communities.
Her and her team are currently working on a rollout package so that any community can hold the event.
Whilst Run for MI Life will remain her own concept and recipe, she hopes others can take it and make it happen for their communities.
Apart from holding the annual fun run event, this year Run For MI Life is proud to announce its collaboration with Grapevine Group Mackay to introduce a program into local high schools called, "SafeTALK."
The SafeTALK program is aimed at teens aged 15 years and upwards and is delivered by trained facilitators who work to educate teens on suicide awareness and prevention.
Mercy College is the first school in the region to be fortunate enough to receive the SafeTALK training, with numerous schools set to follow.
But, Jo said apart from educating our older students, education programs must be delivered to the younger students as well.
After recently travelling to a conference in Canberra, Jo has discovered a new program aimed at the 12 to 17-year-old age group and said this will be her next project with Grapevine Group.
Jo believes the notion around not talking about suicide with children because 'it will give them the idea to do it' is now null and void.
She believes we need to face the facts and equip our children with ways to deal with suicide as they are losing their friends to an avoidable loss.
Through the tireless efforts of herself and dedicated local volunteers, Jo wishes to educate people daily that suicide prevention applies to every single person and it's everyone's business.
"You never know when a work colleague might be going through a hard time, at least you've been equipped and you're in that space, you might recognise it," she said.
Jo believes it is time the clinicians got on board to promote awareness in the community, as she believes it is important for locals to be aware of the mental health services readily available to them.
Knowing there are health professionals behind closed doors whose lives are spent working on preventing suicide, Jo believes such professionals need to get out into the community, connecting with people, promoting inclusion and raising awareness around mental health.
This year Jo is pleased to have Lifeline and Headspace on board with the Run For MI Life event and she believes the community will benefit from such services being present on the day.
Jo is also happy to see the local council on board after they contributed a $2,200.00 grant towards the event.
Cr Greg Williamson will be taking part in the run and will also be speaking at the event, which Jo believes is important for the community to see.
"It's just that endorsement to the community that this is a serious event, this is the real deal," she said.
After 1400 people registered for the first event in 2014, and 1500 in 2015, Jo and her committee are pleased with the response they have received so far, but she believes there is always room for growth.
Jo said some big sponsors are involved with the event this year and there are also many other businesses in the region lending a hand as well.
Major sponsors of the event include Ergon Energy, Daly Bay Coal Terminal and Rio Tinto.
There are 30 to 40 local businesses doing their part by distributing flyers, and holding donation tins on their counters, so Jo believes there is no excuse for locals not knowing what Run for MI Life is all about.
"If anybody comes to me and says, 'I don't know anything about it,' it's like a stab to my heart, because I work so hard to try and make it mainstream and visible to everybody," she said.
Since the passing of her brother, suicide prevention will forever be a big part of Jo's life.
"I've really soul searched and looked deep and I've thought, 'I can't stop this, it just has to be.' It's a big part of me, this is preventable, we can do something about this," she said.
"I think that when someone has suicidal thoughts in their head, there's only a tiny part of them that thinks, 'this is my best option.'
"Everybody is walking around carrying some pain, everybody is, and it wasn't until my brother passed that I really understood that.
"We're all going along, we're all doing our thing, we're all putting on our brave faces every day, but at the end of the day, we've all got something.
"In those depths of my grief I was thinking, 'Why can't people just be decent to each other?' 'Why can't people just be kind, be nice?' It's not going to solve all problems, but at the end of the day if everybody made that their mission, just imagine?"
The Walkerston Run For MI Life event is set to take place this Sunday, and Jo urges the community to get on board. Jo and her committee are always looking for volunteers to assist them on their expedition towards a safe community, where locals are able to feel comfortable to speak up and reach out in times of need, so she encourages locals to get on board.
To register for the run or to become a Run For MI Life volunteer, visit runformilife.org.au
Having survived the walk down a long, dark road, local anxiety sufferer and suicide survivor wishes to share some advice with you:
"You are not alone, you might think you're alone, you might think ending your life is the answer, but it's not.
"There's always other ways, you need to speak to someone, anyone, you need to speak up, even if it's a stranger, you will feel better.
"Nothing is as bad as you think it is, nothing is worth you not being in this world.
"We are human beings, we are born to live our lives, so no matter what, keep at it."
In 2016, Lifeline expects to receive more than a million requests for help.
Its 3500 skilled Crisis Supporters will lend an ear to someone in need.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a hard time, please speak up.