A Queensland father who saved his young son from a #suicide attempt says he wants other parents to learn from his mistakes.
- A 12-year-old Queensland boy has narrowly survived a #suicide attempt
- His parents are warning other parents to not underestimate the effects of #bullying on children’s #mentalhealth
- There are calls for more accurate data on suicide and self-harm, with reports that the #mentalhealth of young people is deteriorating
The father of three found his 12-year-old son unconscious and not breathing in his bedroom after school in February.
He performed CPR until an ambulance arrived.
“We had told him to go to his room and do his homework,” he said.
“Something just made me go in and check on him.”
It took another eight minutes after the ambulance arrived for the boy to regain a pulse.
He was rushed to the local hospital and later flown to the hospital in Brisbane where he spent four days in an induced coma.
Doctors told his parents it was highly likely their son would suffer significant brain damage due to being oxygen deprived for an estimated 30 minutes.
They braced themselves for the prospect that their eldest child could be left in a vegetative state.
Remarkably, he has been recovering well and while the lasting effects on his brain function are still unknown, his parents have been considering themselves lucky.
‘We failed to read the signs’
The family wants their gut-wrenching ordeal to serve as a warning to other parents.
The father said parents should not underestimate the devastating impacts that #bullying can have, even on very young children.
“We knew it [#bullying] was happening, but we talked to him and we would tell him ‘they’re just words, you’ve got to be the bigger man’,” he said.
“We failed to read those little signs … and being his age, we thought that a lot of his anger and frustration was him going through the change of life and becoming a teenager.”
#Suicide to be discussed more openly
One of Australia’s foremost authorities on youth #mentalhealth, Patrick McGorry, has commended the family on their decision to share their story.
“Telling stories and exposing things that people want to sweep under the carpet is the way to solve the problem — it is the first step,” he said.
Professor McGorry said society’s reluctance to talk openly about youth #suicide had likely contributed to the problem.
“This reluctance to discuss it, which understandably is based on fear of contagion, has been exaggerated,” he said.
“We’ve actually got to find ways to discuss it safely and it’s perfectly possible to do that.
“It’s just a painful subject so people tend to shy away from it but it’s not much help to the kids, the parents or the schools.”
However, opinions on the issue vary significantly among those working in the sector.
#NationalMentalHealthCommission chairwoman Lucy Brogden has been open about her personal experience of living with a family member with #suicidalideations but said there were potential risks.
“For some, sunlight is the best disinfectant and I completely appreciate that position, but I’m equally mindful of the researchers and people working in this space that are just saying that we’re not sure we know enough about the impact on people that are vulnerable and susceptible to #suicide,” she said.
“There may be some issues for our more vulnerable people that might look on #suicide in a different way when we have these open conversations and might see it as some kind of permission giving, or an enabler, and we would hate to see that as an outcome.”
Calls for improved suicide surveillance
A report by the Queensland Family and Child Commission, released last year, showed #suicide was the leading non-natural cause of death of children in 2016–2017.
The report revealed 112 Queensland children died from #suicide in the five years to June 2017.
Only half-expressed thoughts of #suicide prior to their death.
Nationally, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed 180 people aged under 19 years died by #suicide in 2017.
Twenty-four of those deaths were children younger than 14.
There have been calls in the past for radical changes to the way #suicide data is collected and reported.
One of the recommendations from Australia’s first #SuicidePreventionSummit in December last year was the establishment of a national system to provide real-time data on #suicide and self-harm.
“Our statistics in #suicide are usually a couple of years out of date, they underestimate the problem, and there’s no link between those numbers and an action plan,” Professor McGorry said.
In the newly announced Federal Budget, the Government allocated $15 million over three years to establish the #NationalSuicideInformationInitiative.
Ms. Brogden agreed that the program would be vital in forming effective strategies for #suicideprevention.
“It’s not so much about the data of sadly, people dying, but highlighting the risk areas based on self-harm and other patterns of behavior that will allow other #suicide prevention initiatives to be brought in and hopefully prevent that tragic loss of life,” she said.
It will use information from hospital emergency departments, ambulance call-outs, and police reports.
The Federal Government’s $737-million increase in #mentalhealth spending also included $111 million to establish 30 new Headspace services around Australia by 2020.
Younger children now affected
Professor McGorry said #mentalhealth and #suicide had been a growing concern for younger age groups.
“We definitely have evidence now that the #mentalhealth of our young people is actually getting worse and even though we’ve built systems like Headspace to respond to it, the problem is getting worse and we need to strengthen these systems greatly,” he said.
“We need to understand the cause of why the #mentalhealth of our young people is deteriorating.
“We are getting concerned about the #mentalhealth of younger children in primary schools, so a version of Headspace could be developed for that age group, [but] it would look very different.”
Professor McGorry said #bullying had been a huge factor in the poor #mentalhealth of young people.
“It’s of the same potency as #childabuse,” he said.
“That might surprise some people but #bullying is an incredibly dangerous phenomenon. It can be lethal and it can be 24/7 these days, not just when the kids are at school.”
Fragmented, underfunded system
The Queensland Government said state schools had access to #mentalhealth coaches who operated statewide to assist with early intervention for students who might be experiencing difficulties.
It said more than 45 additional guidance officers had been employed to address #bullying and to support the #mentalhealth and welfare of students in and outside the classroom.
It also said $3.5 million had been spent on implementing the recommendations of the state’s Anti-Cyberbullying Taskforce, including $2 million on an anti-cyberbullying campaign, $1 million on the eSmart Schools Program, and $500,000 for youth and community organizations to develop their own initiatives to tackle cyberbullying.
Professor McGorry said a national approach to #suicideprevention was desperately needed.
“We want to learn what works, scale-up things that are effective and not have everyone reinventing the wheel in their own little communities,” he said.
“[#Suicideprevention] is allowed to be done in a pretty ad hoc way around the country. We’ve got 10 trials and they’re all being done differently, that would not happen if it was cancer or infectious diseases.”
Parents often the last to know
Counselor and social worker Martina Wenman, who runs a Headspace service in regional Queensland, said it was never an overreaction to seek psychological support for your child if you suspected they were struggling with #bullying or other issues affecting their #mentalhealth.
Tips for parents whose child may be #bullying
- Supervise them closely when they are with other children
- Explain what bullying is, and why it isn’t acceptable
- Talk to your child about how #bullying affects others. The goal is to help them understand how the other child might feel: “How would you feel if you were feeling bullied?”
- Ask them what they think might help them stop #bullying
- Show them how to play and interact with other kids in a friendly way.
- Make clear rules and consequences. Once you lay down these rules, make sure you follow through.
- Praise your children when they do play well with others
- Find a group program that helps them manage their behavior
“It can never be an overreaction, it just can never be,” Ms. Wenman said.
“It’s comforting for the young person too because they realize there is a wrap-around thing happening and you are not on your own — other people will reach down and pull you up,” she said.
Ms. Wenman said it was important to notice changes in your child’s mood and social activity.
“Most young people, when they’re feeling like they should take their lives, they’re not necessarily going to inform their parents,” she said.
“That’s probably the last person they’re going to tell because they know that will probably break their mum’s heart or their dad’s heart.”
Ms. Wenman said while schools were getting better at dealing with issues like #bullying, they also needed more resources to help guide students into external support services.
“I think schools have a huge load and there’s a lot put on them in a short amount of time to achieve,” she said.
“Schools are doing as much as they can to work in this space. I think they’re very aware … and they do respond … but it’s an area that can be more adequately resourced.”
‘Talk to your kids’
After spending four weeks in hospital in Brisbane, the 12-year-old boy and his family have returned home to regional Queensland and resumed their day-to-day-lives.
His father said they would not hide what their family had been through and refused to stay silent on the issue of #bullying and #youthsuicide.
“Our main reason for speaking out is to urge other parents out there to take the time to sit down and talk to your kids, even if it is something trivial or it seems little,” he said.
“It’s hard to do it, but we hope that it can make a difference.”
Editor’s Note 6/04/2019: After very careful consideration, the ABC has decided not to name the family featured in this story. This decision was taken in accordance with our guidance note on reporting on or depicting #suicide and self-harm.
While the ABC recognizes the substantial public benefit in talking openly about suicide, we are also required to take account of any potential or likely harm that could arise. In this particular instance, we were very aware of the age of the child involved and the potential impact of national exposure on his life today and on his right to privacy into the future. The ABC works closely with expert organizations and individuals in order to stay abreast with the latest research and thinking in this complex area.