This week is Mental Health Awareness Week so in this episode of the Whole Circle Podcast we revisit a previous episode where we spoke to Mitch from Speak up and Stay Chatty.

Most people in some way or another have been touched by mental illness, whether it’s themselves or someone they know.  1 in 5 people aged between 16-85 suffer with a mental illness whether it be depression or anxiety which can lead to substance abuse issues too.

With that in mind, if you are going through some mental health issues at the moment and you need to get some help, then make sure you do so.  You will be able to find help in your local area with a quick Google search.  There’s also some great resources online with Better Health, Beyond Blue, Mission Australia or Lifeline

Sadly, many of us have been touched deeply by the sensitive topic of suicide or self-harm. It’s becoming more and more common to know of someone in our immediate circle, who have lost a loved one to suicide. Today we are talking with Mitch from Speak Up and Stay Chatty, who is making a huge difference right here in Australia, in raising awareness in mental health issues facing everyday Australians.

You can’t always sense the inner struggles that someone is going through

Mitch founded his organisation SPEAK UP four years ago, after his younger brother Ty, who was just 18 years old, took his own life. What started out as a commemorate to him by way of a car bumper sticker, turned into a lifelong pledge of wanting to help in preventing mental health issues facing everyday Australians.

The way in which Mitch describes Ty is that he was the last person he would have imagined to have been going through a difficult time, as he was such a happy-go-lucky person, incredibly popular in his small community and always surrounded by plenty of friends.

You may have seen his stickers scattered across the rear windows of cars, and always wondered what they were about. These stickers were intended to help crack a smile and battle the grief that his family were going through. In just two months, two thousand stickers were distributed, and Mitch’s usual job as a glazier, transformed into a full-time dedication to his campaign. Four years on, this campaign has taken over Mitch’s life in a positive way, as he passionately raises awareness for suicide.

Nothing is so bad that you can’t talk about it”.

Making a huge difference in the community in preventing suicide rates

While Mitch admits it’s difficult to gauge the difference that he’s making in the community, and how many lives he’s genuinely impacting, he knows his strong message is serving well. Mitch is continuously receiving messages of gratitude from his community talks, and even being stopped in the street by parents acknowledging the amazing work that he’s doing.

From all the positive feedback, he knows that his talks have allowed children to open up about personal issues, that they may not have otherwise brought up with their parents. Talk about powerful stuff! It’s all the feedback that helps keep Mitch’s fire alive and helps him to jump out of bed in the morning, even though it’s tough some days for him to talk about. He sees his personal experience as having the ability to change lives for the better.

He also receives impressive feedback from those in the workforce. While he knows he can’t possibly save everyone, he can still make an immense difference in how we tackle mental health problems today.

Mitch has received a lot of support for his organisation, and has now partnered with Relationships Australia Tasmania and expanded to a team of four, and is always on the go!

A taboo topic particularly with men’s mental health

The view that men should always suck it up and be continually strong without showing emotion is so outdated! For this reason, we find Mitch’s message even more powerful, being a man speaking up, given he comes from a tradie background.

No one ever told him that it was OK to go through a difficult time, and generally speaking, men raised in Australia are raised to be the tough guy that has to fend for their family. Mitch voices the general concerns in men speaking up and talking about their issues, and how their fear of being judged is so high.

As we move through the generations, views are finally shifting, allowing men to open up more and talk about their problems. Mitch is warmed by the idea of running a presentation in front of a workgroup of big burly blokes, who at first show a high level of disinterest, barely making eye contact, while after the presentation receiving private emails, thanking him for his strong message and how much it has impacted them.

We don’t have to be that big tough bloke all the time, and we can open up and show our emotions”

The stats around Australian suicide rates

Stats are vital as they help Mitch to focus on the demographics that need the most attention. Sadly, you hear of people of all ages taking their lives, and it does affect everyone at some point.

What can we do to help?

The figures above can hit us hard, but we can do a lot of things to help out. When Mitch lost his younger brother, it devastated the family because he always seemed happy, he was incredibly popular with a lot of friends and appeared to love life.

The fact there were some serious problems going on under the surface, and under their own roof, has helped Mitch to spread the message to look out for those close to you (the one percenters!) If someone in your direct circle of friends or family, are showing changes in their usual character, or displaying signs that are a bit off, never be afraid to ask them if they’re OK.

We don’t need to immerse ourselves in books written on mental health or sleep under our kid’s beds at night when they retire early, but be aware to changes and ask questions you may not have asked in the past if they look like they’re not OK. We all know the relief that comes with getting problems off our chest and just talking to someone that we trust.

Mental health is everyone’s business”.

Tracey shares a view from her military days, where she had to undergo suicide prevention training, where one message has stuck with her, that you don’t have to be hesitant to ask the big questions like “are you suicidal or thinking about committing suicide, because your behaviour’s been a bit erratic lately and I’ve noticed signs?” While it seems like such a bold and direct question, time really is critical, once you begin to notice potential signs of suicide and they’re direct questions that are best asked in a safe environment.

Through tears, we hear of Tracey’s personal story of her cousin committing suicide.

Mitch does believe that every suicide is preventable, but they always come with their own set of unique circumstances.

But what happens when they tell you that they’re fine when you know they’re not?

When you’re not feeling overly confident that someone is giving you an honest answer to how they’re feeling deep down, it can be hard to know whether to leave them in peace or push for more answers. While there’s no magic cure to force others to come out about their problems, persistence is generally the key.

This is especially true if your gut is telling you that they’re just not themselves, with their way of life changing far too dramatically for them to be OK. You can also ask other close friends and family that you trust, to keep an extra eye on their behaviour.

Those that are experiencing depression or anxiety at a high level, we can help only so much. We need to show them how valuable life is, and just how many others care for them, in order for them to get the help they truly need themselves. If that person doesn’t find the strength within themselves to get that help, ultimately we can’t force them.

Common signs to look for in someone that might be suicidal

Sadly, it’s usually through the personal experience of knowing someone that has committed suicide, which forces you to look back on all the little signs you missed along the way. One in five people will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime, and there are many common signs to look for:

  • People giving things away.
  • Have been down and out for some time, then all of a sudden appear to be OK. This could be a sign that they have decided to end their life, hence their relief. This can be one of the biggest alarm bells.
  • It’s common for someone to attend a family occasion such as a wedding, then very soon take their own life, so be very observant of their behaviour around any of these family gatherings.
  • They’ve stopped doing the things they loved

Why intervention is so crucial at a young age

Requests for Mitch to come and talk to Grades 5 to 8 are sadly on the rise, however, there are some great programs out there to touch the lives of young children. Mitch is currently looking to develop a program that builds habits on nutrition and talking to mum and dad when you’re not feeling well.

This helps to build resilience from a young age, and install the idea that it’s OK to go through a difficult time and to also speak about it. Mitch has noticed that when he intervenes with grades 9 and 10, some children have been already dealing with heavy emotions for far too long.

These days, there are school counsellors in just about every school, which is great for children that don’t feel comfortable opening up to their parents about their problems. Mitch places a high emphasis on having a counsellor available in every school that he visits, as not every child has an older brother, sister or mentor to listen to their problems at home.

Services available to assist with suicide

While Mitch truly believes that installing habits at a young age, where children are comfortable speaking about their problems, eliminates the need to approach larger organisations set up to tackle mental health, there is still plenty of services out there including:

  • Beyond Blue
  • Lifeline
  • School counselling and support services such as sporting coaches, teachers and other influential role models
  • Headspace
  • GPs and psychologists

The more we can have everyday conversations over a cup of tea, where we put our phones down and have in-depth discussions with those that are closest to us, the less we need to rely on these organisations.

We need to groom our kids to know that being that burly bloke, and that kid that doesn’t talk about their issues is a thing of the past”. 

Taking care of family directly affected by suicide

There are indeed a lot of tough emotions to process, for those that have lost a loved one to suicide. There’s a lot of guilt and thoughts of what they could have done to prevent the suicide from taking place. Their own risk of suicide is then heightened by having to deal with the loss of their loved one.

The guilt is an inevitable feeling and one that was undoubtedly persistent after Mitch lost his brother. He reflected on all the times when Ty stopped having dinner with his family, or the way he said goodnight to him before he took his life. This guilt spread far and wide across the family, where that burning thought of ‘if only we had that conversation he would still be with us today’ continually arises.

Mitch’s mum has dramatically benefited from connecting with other mothers, who have also lost their sons to suicide. Many of these mothers are across different states and have met in person, which is incredibly comforting and can form life-long friendships.

Mitch just wants everyone to know that if you’ve been touched by suicide, that it’s never anybody’s fault. In the end, it’s the decision of the person that takes their life. All we can do is contribute along the way in a positive and influential manner. The more we can break down barriers, share, laugh and have fun together, the fewer suicides we will see.

If you or a loved one are dealing with suicide in the family, please contact Lifeline for assistance on 13 11 14

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