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In The News

Mental health special reports
8th August 2005
By Brooke DuBois
Publication: Port Lincoln Times
Port Lincoln Times. Reproduced by Permission


IN Tumby Bay between 1986 and 1995, there were 12 suicides in 10 years. This was three times the national average.

Tumby Bay GP Dr Graeme Fleming said the tragedies raised an awareness of a "significant mental health problem in the community that was not being met".

He said efforts to gain psychiatric support from governments, academic clinics or specialist colleges fell on deaf ears. The only viable support system for rural communities was found to be one set up by the community itself. He said a self-help program began in Tumby Bay, in 1986, which focused on:

    1. Education and the increase in mental health literacy in the community. Dr Fleming spoke at length to every community group in the area increasing awareness about the issue.

    2. Retraining professionals such as doctors, nurses and teachers to provide a better and more efficient service. Retired professionals were also trained for new roles as counsellors.

    3. Early intervention through recognizing symptoms of dysfunction in children, and also picking up any learning difficulties as early as possible, as these can sometimes lead to mental illness later in life.

Dr Fleming said "if we get them early enough, the long term outlook is infinitely better, and they can be managed in a local environment".

The program has succeeded in stemming the tide of suicides to the extent that from 1996 to 2005 there has been only one further suicide in the area. The Flemings hope that the program has also treated many more mental health problems along the way. Similar programs are now being set up in other rural localities.

Gladys Fleming wants sufferers of mental illness to know that "with support and the medication they need, their lives can be fulfilled". She wishes to encourage people who need help to "actually talk about it."

"Sufferers need someone who will go with them to see a health professional, someone who will respect them and listen carefully," Mrs Fleming said. She believes programs to promote positive mental health are very important. "We want to encourage people to care for themselves so problems don't turn into a crisis," Mrs Fleming said.

Rural people less likely to seek help.

DEPRESSION is a very common illness, and chances are, many people you know suffer from it. It could affect you or your postman, your next-door-neighbour, your plumber, or your daughter. Depression is as common in the country as it is in the city, but unfortunately, rural Australians are less likely to seek help for the symptoms of depression.

Tumby Bay General Practitioner and mental health advocate, Dr Graeme Fleming, said that country people may not ask for help, because from an early age, many of them are taught that they must be resourceful.

"They traditionally survived without asking for help", Dr Fleming said. "Sufferers in rural localities may also be afraid to be identified or uncomfortable to ask for health advice", he said.

There are also challenges regarding the stigma attached to mental illness by people who are uninformed about it. Depression is an illness where there are chemical changes in the brain, and the ways of thinking, moods, behaviour and feelings become affected. It is much more than a low mood, but a very serious illness, which can make it hard for sufferers to function every day.

Community mental health graduate and counsellor of 10 years, Gladys Fleming, said people with depression "exist, but they don't really live". "They cannot enjoy life like other people can," she said.

People with depression may feel like they're 'not good enough', they may lose total interest in the things they used to enjoy doing, they may lose their ability to cope with or to complete work, and they may withdraw from loved ones.

Dr Fleming said sufferers may also experience a "delusion that suicide is the only or the best option".

"Australia has the fourth highest suicide rate in the world for the 15 to 24 year old age group," he said.

Dr Fleming said suicide was particularly prevalent in males from rural areas, at both ends of the age groups, the elderly and young men - especially in towns with populations less than 4000.

"More young people die from suicide than road trauma," he said.

Life is precious

"WE wonder sometimes if it was an act that he was okay, when he really wasn't.

"We all feel guilty - we shouldn't but we do."

These are the words of a mother left to grieve a son who took his own life.

If Lee Hutton was still with us, he would have celebrated his 21st birthday on the 15th of last month.

Just like most young men from Tumby Bay, he loved his football, surfing, camping, and hanging out with his mates.

His closest friends describe him as "an individual...A loveable character".

But on April 18, 2004, Lee took his own life.

His mother, Marg Hutton, remembers Lee as "a beautiful boy and a beautiful man".

"We miss him like hell," she said.

The Huttons marked Lee's birthday with a dinner at their home.

"We had a ‘do' on, and a few of his friends called in," Mrs Hutton said.

She said Lee was "a very interesting little lad", as a child.

"He drove me nutty sometimes," she laughs.

"He was always doing something to put a smile on your face."

At school, Lee struggled with the learning difficulty dyslexia.

"He finished Year 12 in 2001, which we are very proud of him for," Mrs Hutton said.

"The night before he died I was bragging to some people at a party how proud we were of him - and it was so hard the next day to accept that he was dead."

His family do not know why Lee committed suicide.

On the outside, Lee usually appeared to everyone to be a very happy and outgoing young man.

Mrs Hutton acknowledges that "his pain must have been so intense".

"If he was depressed, it never showed," she said.

Mrs Hutton said Lee had many good friends.

"One of the girls still goes out to his grave and sings to him," she said.

The Huttons are proof that suicide can happen to all sorts of families.

"It shocked a lot of the community," she said.

"We have all been hugely affected.

"You can never be the same when something's been chopped out of you."

In the aftermath of their loss, the Hutton family has exhibited amazing strength.

"He has certainly left a big gap in our family," Mrs Hutton said.

"But we will go on, because if we don't we are not honouring our son.

"We need to keep on with our lives, because they are precious - we need to keep on living, and honouring him."

Mrs Hutton urges the community to support one another and seek help and talk about mental illness.

"As a parent, it is very hard to live with - that your son has taken his life.

"You remember them in your tummy, when they are growing, their first day of school, when they made you curse, even when you washed their socks", Mrs Hutton said.

"All the memories can be sad but also beautiful.

"If you are suffering, or feeling terrible, talk to a mate.

"Share how you're feeling - get checked over with a doctor if you're feeling miserable."

"Value yourself, and honour your body."

Mrs Hutton believes that "life is good for kids, so hang in there".

"With all its problems, life is good, and it can be whatever you want it to be."

She said that the community had been "absolutely supportive and wonderful" to her family.

"That can only happen in small towns like Tumby Bay," Mrs Hutton said.

What can you do?

EVERYONE can feel down sometimes, but how do you know if a person is depressed?

A person may be depressed if they have, for more than two weeks ...

1. Felt down, sad or miserable most of the time OR

2. Lost interest or pleasure in most of their usual activities.

AND experienced three or more of the following symptoms.

Behaviours

r Have stopped going out

r Unable to get things done at school or work

r Withdrawn from close family and friends

r Relying on alcohol or sedatives

r No longer doing things they enjoyed

r Unable to concentrate or sleep

Thoughts

"I'm a failure."

"It's all my fault."

"Nothing good ever happens to me."

"I'm worthless."

"Life is not worth living."

People with depression may need to get help, with support from their family and friends.

You can help someone by:

• Suggesting they go to a doctor or health professional

• Assisting them to make an appointment

• Going with them to see a doctor or health professional

• Following them up and making sure they get professional help

• Encouraging them or getting them involved in social activities

It would be unhelpful to:

• Put pressure on them by telling them to ‘snap out of it.'

• Stay away or avoid them

• Tell them they just need to stay busy or get out more

• Pressure them to party more or wipe out how they're feeling with drugs or alcohol.

Information taken from the Federal Government Health Department website.

depressioNet.com.au would like to acknowledge the support of the Port Lincoln Times for Australians suffering depression, by allowing us to reproduce this article within depressioNet.com.au.

Your feedback and input will be greatly appreciated.

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