My pain and struggle may not be as dark or as overwhelming as others, but it is my story, as you have your story.
Many Wimmera residents will know SIMON RISSON as Horsham's Church of Christ senior pastor. He penned the following reflection in light of discussions about mental health in the media and wider community across the past week...
I felt compelled to write. It was, initially, a passing thought which has gathered momentum. I had sense to share it with others.
At the same time, I am hesitant. I am afraid of how it will be seen and of what others might think.
I wanted to write - not because I have any answers, but because my heart aches, my spirit cried for our community. I don't have any deep psychological insights or statistics.
When the news first broke of an identity who had been killed in a car crash, I waited. I felt like I was holding my breath. I used to live in Ballarat and so there is a small part of me that wondered if it was someone I know.
The outpouring of grief since news broke that it was Danny Frawley in that car has been overwhelming.
As I scrolled through Facebook, I read an article of a local church pastor in the United States, Jarrid Wilson, who had committed suicide, just after conducting a funeral for someone else who had taken their own life.
This isn't the first time I have read this.
Sadly, despite our desires and hopes, it won't be the last.
These are not the only two stories, but highlights the breadth of the community this darkness overwhelms. Football champions, media personalities, and church leaders. This pain and darkness covers the spectrum and is not biased.
Social researcher and commentator, Hugh Mackay, suggests that Australia has a mental health epidemic, with over two million Australians struggling with anxiety. He points to research suggesting that one-in-four people are overwhelmed by loneliness.
We have become socially isolated as a nation. We are losing the sense of belonging to a community.
I have sat with families in tears as they reflect on the one who has taken their own life, as they prepare a funeral. I have sat with people who wait to hear from doctors just after their loved ones attempt to take their own life.
It's heartbreaking. It's overwhelming. It's numbing.
I don't want to express myself as an expert with all the knowledge. I am one who travels along the way with many others.
Full disclosure, I am a local church pastor and chaplain. I have grown up in the church and love the church. I have also felt the disappointment and sadness of the church not working in the way that many would hope.
I have felt the critical eye from people watching the church. I have felt the critical eye growing up as a son of a local church pastor.
I am a third-generation pastor, although you don't serve the local church as part of a family business. My two younger brothers are also church pastors. It is a privilege and honour to serve the community in this role.
I am also sad that the church, which includes me, hasn't always done very well at encouraging healthy conversations about uncomfortable issues.
I haven't always been a person of hope or light and I know I have caused others pain. We haven't always been people of light and hope. The church has a lot of work to do to regain trust of the wider community.
It scares me every time I hear of another single-car accident.
When I hear these stories, I am reminded of the darkness I carry. I wonder what the final straw was. I wonder what was the final switch.
I feel for the families who are asking why? The families I have sat with, the friends who I have talked to some time after the event, all speak of the darkness they knew that seemed to overwhelm their loved ones. It's a cloud that never seems to clear.
Many wonder what more they could have done, while knowing that there was nothing more they could do.
It's a horrible place to be.
Further disclosure, I have suffered with my own mental health issues. The Black Dog. Depression.
I don't say that as comparison. Even in writing that, I feel insignificant. My story hardly compares to the many who have suffered so deeply and painfully.
But it's dangerous to live in constant comparison. My pain and struggle may not be as dark or as overwhelming as others, but it is my story, as you have your story. Comparison becomes a weight too heavy to carry.
I feel an overwhelming sadness when I hear of people who feel like they have no choice left but to take their own life. I have thought about it. I have felt the heaviness of a cloud descending on me that it's hard to see a way through.
I have felt the weight of feeling like a failure and a disappointment, even when many around me celebrate who I am and express their love to me - even look to me for guidance, counsel and wisdom.
I am grateful for a few friends who saw the heaviness and stood by me and became the holders of a light when I couldn't or didn't want to. My family has been a saving grace for me.
I am saddened for the families who have been left behind.
Despite the questions, doubt and fear, my faith has been a source of encouragement to me, even in the midst of darkness and heaviness. I also know that this isn't true for others. Despite their pleading to God. Despite their tears and dying out, they have felt that there is only one option.
I am saddened when I hear these stories.
That's the age old question that leaves many doubting the existence of God. If God cares so much, loves us so deeply, why is there is so much suffering? Why does God allow this to happen?
I do believe knowing God, revealed through Jesus, gives us a different perspective on life.
I have come to ask myself another question: "If not God, then what?"
It's not the building of our own wealth, success or importance that saves us or sustains us.
I am not suggesting here that just to believe in Jesus fixes all our problems. This idea also causes an overwhelming weight of comparison when we look to see other people seemingly have their "lives all together" ... whatever that looks like.
I have sat with too many people, expressing their pain and darkness, only to then dismiss it, saying: "There is always someone else is worse off."
I have sat with too many people, and I have said myself: "My pain is nothing compared to the pain and suffering of others."
We push our own pain into the depths of our heart, mind and spirit. It gets sucked into the vortex of a whirlpool that is so deep and dark we don't want to look in there.
Meanwhile, there are new struggles, questions and frustrations brewing at the top of the whirlpool. We find ourselves becoming increasingly overwhelmed, tired and frustrated with people, events or things that we once enjoyed and looked forward to. We don't know where this sense of hopelessness came from.
We believe a lie that we simply have to keep going. At some point, the weight cannot be carried any longer.
We have built our nation on giving everyone a fair go, having a crack, rolling up our sleeves and getting the job done. It's an ideal that seems under threat in so many ways. We have taught people to be tough without giving the resources to deal with disappointment, hardship, struggle, injustice, acknowledging pain cause or experienced, seeking and offering forgiveness.
We still struggle to ask for help, even though we love being able to practically help someone out.
Despite awareness and education, we still struggle to know what to do and say when someone says they are not well, they are not OK.
We are not always very good at sitting with people in their emotions. Sometimes the greatest gift we can offer a friend is to be present, to check in, to share life with them without forcing them to share everything.
We have all heard the information declaring the benefits of good sleep, healthy eating and exercise. We can feel like we are doing all the right things, whatever the right things are, and still feel like crap.
Sometimes life is hard, suffering is real and our community, while responding to practical needs, hasn't been very good at walking through the darkness of the soul.
We don't want to see people in such darkness that they feel the only out is to take their own life.
We need to find ways to be OK in the darkness, believing that there is light. We can change our thinking. Our minds can be trained and retrained, but that requires energy. It's hard to train the mind when just getting out of bed or facing a conversation is exhausting.
Our nation is in grief. We are hurting. We are suffering.
Listening to a podcast in the past couple of days, I had heard that when someone takes their own life, it directly affects 135 people. I would suggest that the impact is much greater. And every time it happens, the grief is compounded. It builds.
For every story, for every life that is overwhelmed by the darkness to the point of taking their own life, there are families and communities who are reminded of their own heartache.
So many of us walk around with open wounds that infect every thought and decision we make. We carry wounds of the past and disappointments of the present.
Healing is possible. It takes time.
It takes a willingness to walk a little deeper into the darkness and suffering.
This is not a pithy quick fix kind of reflection.
At best, I felt compelled to write to recognise the heartache of a community, a nation. We are carrying too many open wounds and we need to find new ways of healing, to recognise the wounds, to recognise that there is a little more pain to come. Every wound needs to be treated with some surgery and that is never comfortable or painless.
But over time, wounds can becomes scars, that remind us of experiences and lessons learned.
We will never forget our loved ones, our mates who have taken their own lives.
May we always remember the love they have shown us. May we continue to remember the lessons they have taught us. May we keep pointing to light, even as the darkness seems to be overwhelming us.
This is an important conversation that we must have the courage to face. It's a conversation that must be more than simply asking because it's one day set aside. It has to be ongoing.
I acknowledge the work of local agencies and community groups who are doing some great work at ensuring the opportunities for conversation are always available. Thank you.
It might be hard to hear or believe at the moment, you might struggle to accept your value. That's OK. Sometimes we need others to speak a truth into us. Especially when we aren't able to see it for ourselves. It doesn't stop being a truth in the midst of the darkness and suffering.
You are known. You are valued. You belong.
You are loved.
- Two-in-three regional Australians affected by suicide, data shows
- Groups, volunteers provide mental health support through advocacy
- Lauren Dempsey encourages others to reach out
- Ballarat Health Services advocates for mental health beds in Horsham
- Mental health counselling wait times up to 12 weeks
- Advocates encourage men to talk about mental health
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