As we enter 2021, after struggling through a devastating 2020, Yahoo News Australia has teamed up with Lifeline to tell the truth about mental health with real stories from real people.
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After having grappled with loneliness and inner turmoil that drove him to the brink of suicide, Craig Marchant knows all too well the effects of mental health issues.
So when the father of five noticed familiar warning signs in his own daughter, he knew he urgently needed to take action before it was too late.
Mr Marchant, who lives in Narre Warren South in Melbourne’s southeast, became increasingly worried about his daughter, 14, as coronavirus plunged the city into two unprecedented lockdowns last year.
Having been diagnosed with depression and anxiety himself when he was just 12, before later being diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder when he was 17, the signs were all too familiar.
“I’m stable but still get the ups and downs with my mental health, and obviously Covid came along and it got pretty full on,” he said.
Mr Marchant, who spoke to Yahoo News Australia for its What’s Up? mental health series, said his daughter began to deteriorate as she became disconnected during the first coronavirus lockdown.
What made it worse was when Melbourne was thrust into yet a second lockdown in early July, a brutal confinement that would last 112 days.
“It was the pits going back into it a second time. We thought we got to a place where we were not too bad,” Mr Marchant said.
“To have it all taken away again did a number on [both me and my daughter] to be perfectly honest.”
Daughter’s admission about mental health battle
Mr Marchant said he began to notice signs of anxiety and depression in his teenage daughter, who started withdrawing and spending a lot of time in her room – only coming out for meals.
“I used myself as a guide to see what that would be like for her and most of the time it was pretty spot on. I could see she was feeling quite off. Those were the warning signs to us something wasn’t right,” he said.
The father added his daughter would struggle to look him in the eye and having seen him battle with his own mental health, would confide in him she wasn’t feeling well.
“I said, ‘If you’re ever feeling that bad just come and get me, even if it’s just to sit with you’,” he said.
“I go through it myself so she knows I understand the battles and I think she was grateful for that.”
Mr Marchant said he then became alarmingly concerned for his daughter’s wellbeing after one particular conversation.
“She came out to me and said she was feeling suicidal,” he said.
“At that point I knew we needed to take this more seriously.”
The critical question dad asked daughter
Mr Marchant asked his daughter four questions to gauge the severity of her mental health struggle – one of which he said was absolutely crucial.
Firstly he asked his daughter if she was feeling suicidal. He then followed up with a question about whether she had thought about how she would end her life.
He then asked if she had any plans to go through with it. He was looking for a “no” response to those three questions.
The fourth question, which he says is the most crucial, was: Can you guarantee your safety?
For this question, he needed a “yes” or it was time to take action.
“It’s probably the most critical question you can ask. If they come back with a maybe or no, that’s a deal-breaker for me – I’ve got to do something now,” he said.
“That’s the alarm, and you take them to hospital after that.”
Admitting you need help
Mr Marchant said during the coronavirus lockdowns his daughter was hospitalised twice, once at the beginning of 2020 and again around August.
The father said he used the tricks learned during his own sessions with his psychologist and was able to ensure his daughter got the help she needed before it was too late.
“She realised things weren’t right and she needed help. Half the battle is to get them to admit they need help,” he said.
“I believe it was the lockdown that contributed to poor mental health for both of us. She had trouble with online learning – the laptop would play up or the webcam didn’t work.
“It was a range of things.”
Mr Marchant has learnt how to manage his own mental health over the years and has even written a number of books to help others.
He urges people struggling to take mental health seriously and to see a GP to organise a mental health plan.
“The brain is the most complex part of the human body and the least understood. It will need maintenance on occasions,” he said.
“Let your kids know it’s OK for them to tell a psychologist things and they won’t necessarily relay everything back to the parent.”
How to help when something’s wrong
Head of Crisis Services at Lifeline, Rachel Bowes, told Yahoo News Australia the best thing people can do to help somebody with depression is let them know you’ve noticed something is wrong.
“Just ask, ‘Is there something on your mind?’ Let them know you’re there if they want to talk,” she said.
“Our advice, it’s the same we do at Lifeline, is be a good listener. You’re there to offer support and give advice, not find a solution or fix that person’s problem.”
Ms Bowes said people with mental health issues were often looking for an opportunity to offload, and the most powerful thing others could do was accept their experience and not be judgemental.
She said people should also not shy away from asking a friend or family member directly about suicide.
“It’s not something a lot of people do but practise asking if they’ve been thinking about suicide,” she said.
“It’s a really powerful thing you can do for somebody. It normalises it and introduces the subject.
“You’re creating that opportunity for them to talk about thoughts they’ve had and it’s a pretty scary and hard question to ask, but at Lifeline we ask every single caller that question.”
Ms Bowes said answers to questions about suicide could help others understand the severity of a person’s mental health issue and identify whether or not they need immediate help.
Pandemic causes high levels of concern among families
Research by Real Insurance revealed 73 per cent of parents were feeling more stressed and anxious as a result of uncertainties brought on by the pandemic.
Almost 70 per cent of parents were highly concerned about ensuring everyone in their family was happy, a 20 per cent increase from 2019.
The 2020 research found family concerns were among the biggest worries for parents, with those under the age of 29 particularly stressed about their family’s happiness.
“Interestingly, more wealth does not necessarily mean less stress. Almost two in five are worried about making sure everyone in the family feels happy, regardless of their income brackets,” the Real Insurance research says.
The Real Concerns of Parents research also found 49.6 per cent of parents were worried about finding enough quality time where the family can really connect.
Readers seeking support and information about youth suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, ReachOut Australia or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.