My dad ended his own life – Here’s what everyone should know about suicide prevention
Michael Farrington with his mother
BY KAYLEE FARRINGTON, MARKETING MANAGER AT FEROS CARE
This September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day.
It aims to remember those we have lost to suicide, those who have attempted suicide, and those who are living with the grief of losing someone.
I am in the last category, one of the 10 million Australians who live with having been impacted by suicide in some way.
My dad Michael was in his late 40s when he took his own life. It was fifteen years ago, and I was living overseas at the time.
He didn’t leave a note. In fact, hours before he passed away, he sent me a chatty and happy email, filling me in on what had been going on in his life.
Upon reflection, there were signs of his depression and declining mental health; but as a 20-year-old, I didn’t know how to navigate a conversation about this with my dad.
The conversations had with loved ones, friends, family and acquaintances after his suicide were just as hard.
Here are a few things I’ve learned, and want to share, this World Suicide Prevention Day.
There is still so much stigma around suicide
I received a phone call at two o’clock in the morning, London time. It was my grandmother – my dad’s mum – calling to tell me that dad had taken his own life.
To say it was shocking to me would be an understatement. I went into action mode, quitting my job, packing up my possessions and booking a flight home to move back to Australia within 24 hours.
Micheal Farrington with his daughter, Kaylee
When I went into work to say goodbye to my colleagues, they asked how he had died – and I lied. I told them he got hit by a car.
I simply wasn’t mentally prepared to say he had died by suicide. At the time, there was so much stigma attached, and I was so concerned people would judge him and me.
15 years later, we’ve come a long way in talking about mental health and suicide, and I think younger generations will really benefit from the conversations we have.
But there are still so many people that feel very uncomfortable talking about their feelings and emotions, and there is still so much misunderstanding about suicide.
I’ll never forget one friend saying to me: “Suicide is a very selfish act.” It made me think – well, obviously you have never experienced such internal agony that you think it’s the only way to escape the pain.
The facts are, according to Lifeline Australia:
● 8.6 Australians die every day by suicide. (ABS, 2021)
● 75% of those who take their own life are male (ABS, 2021)
● It’s estimated that over 65,000 Australians attempt suicide every year (Slade et al, 2009)
● Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between the ages of 15 and 44 (AIHW, 2022a)
Those numbers make it clear that many Australians have contemplated suicide at some point in their lives, or had it impact them in other ways – so it’s key to start talking about it more, and dramatically reducing the stigma that still sits around
As a starting point, I would encourage everyone to do their Mental Health First Aid Training, which goes a long way in educating people how to support others and work towards suicide prevention.
For example, they teach that asking someone directly about suicidal feelings will often lower anxiety levels and act as a deterrent – something which many of us would never think to do.
It’s okay to admit you’re not okay
I blamed myself for a long time after dad’s suicide. I felt guilty that I’d moved overseas and continued to live my life, even though he was so happy and proud of me and the adventures I was having.
It heavily impacted my mental health, which I didn’t feel comfortable admitting. Why is it that we’re so ready to say we’re unwell if we have cancer or a broken leg – but we hesitate when it’s something mental health related?
It’s important to talk to those you feel comfortable talking to. It will help you, and it might help someone else if they are faced with something similar in the future.
It’s also important to admit when you’re not okay. We’re living in an age where we have never experienced so many different types of pressures at once. The impacts of COVID-19, the stress of financial challenges, the pressures of being
in the workforce… People are under a lot more strain and pressure to constantly perform.
To put it simply, we’re humans. And everyone breaks sometimes.
At Feros Care, we also do our part to contribute to those resources and tools – such as our HOPE booklet, which provides suicide postvention support and information through the lens of the disability sector.
Within our organisation, we offer an Employee Assistance program for team members who may need help.
We have also implemented wellbeing goals across the organisation to track the mental health of our team members while respecting their privacy.
This is an effort to break down the stigma around talking about mental health in the workplace, and acknowledging that it’s an important conversation to have.
Celebrate the people you’ve lost
Someone may have died of suicide, but just because they went in that way doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remember them fondly and celebrate their life.
My dad was an incredible artist, and I still have some of his artwork hanging up in my house – it’s my most prized possession.
I still talk to my dad. I have a special spot where I visit him and speak with him. Two weeks after my baby daughter was born, I took my daughter in to visit grandpa. I still have a picture of him framed in my bedroom. It was just Father’s Day,
and she knows to say hello to him and wave to him.
He’s still very much part of my life and my decision making. And I’ve found that’s a wonderful way of dealing with grief. No matter what, no one can take away from him as a person or the wonderful things he contributed to society. The
beautiful artwork he did, the things we did together.
I like to remember those happy moments. Those happy smiles. The traditions we had at Christmas of putting a random stuffed toy on top of the tree instead of a star.
And I like to be an open book in his memory. Be genuine in my conversations. Make people feel valued.
Whether it’s someone who has suicidal thoughts or been impacted by suicide, I’ve learned to genuinely listen – because sometimes we people just need to talk.
In memory of Michael John Farrington, 1958 – 2007