When Ursula Wharton’s son posted these three words on Facebook ‘i am sorry’, she knew immediately what it meant.
Shortly after, 17-year-old Josh Klumper was found dead in the bush after taking his own life. He was revived but died again 11 days later in intensive care.
Geelong mum Kim Edgar’s family is also reeling from her 17-year-old son’s death to suicide, after her youngest boy discovered Daniel’s lifeless body at home after school.
In Queensland, Melissa Wilkinson fears for her son who has been deeply affected by his older sister Skyla’s suicide at age 16.
These Australian mums are among hundreds grappling with the aftermath of teen suicide and fighting for better services and support.
The latest ABS statistics show intentional self harm is the leading cause of death among children (defined as ages five to 17).
And the fatalities are rising. In 2017, the number of children who suicided was 98, a 10 per cent increase on 2016 and higher than the previous four years.
Most teens were aged 15, 16 and 17. However anecdotally, those who have been touched by suicide say they are noticing ever-younger losses – as young as 10 years old.
Chloe was 13 when she ended her life in September 2017 and her mum struggles to understand why.
“My daughter, Chloe, will forever be 13 years old. Chloe had a bright future ahead of her and she’d just started year seven in high school.
“Chloe’s biggest passion in this world was animals and especially her beautiful horse, Ace, which she loved and adored and I can’t believe she left him, let alone her family and friends.”
Together the mums are sharing their stories to put faces to the suicide statistics, recently posting a YouTube video calling on federal politicians to address the crisis.
Ursula Wharton, who compiled and edited the video, said statistics did not paint a true enough picture of what people were going through.
“The statistics don’t give insight into the crisis,” Ms Wharton, a former ABC radio producer, said.
“When you lose someone your eyes are opened. No family is immune to suicide.
“Everyone has to pay attention and understand this is a whole of community problem.
“We can’t save our children on our own.”
Ms Wharton joined an online support group after Josh’s death in 2017 and says the grief from suicide is complex and isolating.
Kim Edgar, a library manager, has thrown her energy into lobbying for youth mental health beds in her town as she struggles with the emotional aftermath of Daniel’s passing in August.
Her youngest son, who discovered Daniel’s body, requires ongoing counselling and she too is on medication.
Ms Edgar said the consistent problem faced by families trying to care for their suicidal children was not being able to get the help they needed.
“We are not being heard by health authorities, by schools. Any time we try to seek help or assistance we are not taken seriously,” she said.
“It’s very lonely and emotionally exhausting caring for someone with severe mental health issues when you can’t get support.”
Melissa Wilkinson, who served in the Australian Defence Forces, says parents are made to feel like they are over-reacting when trying to explain to professionals that their child is at risk.
“They have to almost suicide before they say there is a bed,” she said.
“They need to listen to parents more and take us seriously.”
Ms Wilkinson battles every day with her own sad thoughts and says it’s “really hard to find joy”.
“It’s really hard; I feel so empty,” she said.
The counselling service Lifeline says that for every death by suicide, another 30 people have made an attempt.
It is estimated that there are 65,300 suicide attempts in Australia each year.
It is also the leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 44, with about eight suicides happening each day.
The Federal Government in April committed $461 million to youth mental health and suicide prevention and said it would appoint a Suicide Prevention Special Adviser within the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Lifeline’s Rachel Bowes said suicide was increasing in prevalence in the developed world and was affecting more families.
“Teens are at greater risk today than in the previous generation or two generations ago,” said Ms Bowes.
“It will either touch our own children or our children’s friends.”
For parents seeking urgent or immediate help for their children Ms Bowes suggested:
- Contacting your GP and making an immediate appointment. Be forceful in what you’re looking for and ensure the doctor understands that the behaviour is significant. Seek a second opinion if you are concerned.
- If you need to act quickly attend an emergency department immediately and get a mental health assessment.
- Call a 24-hour mental health support line in your state to seek a mental health triage.
- If the problem is not immediate but you want help for your children, there are a range of services such as Lifeline (13 11 14), Beyond Blue (1300 22 46 36) and headspace which you can either contact yourself or urge your child to contact.
- Lifeline has a new text-based service for people who prefer online support. Lifeline text service: 0477 13 11 14
- Lifeline also has a range of resources on its website relating to suicide prevention and mental health.