By Greg Ross, Rotary Club of North Balwyn, Australian Rotary Health
Having been the celebrant at over a thousand funerals, which involves meeting and talking with the families prior to the service, I have seen a lot of family grief. Nothing is more shattering than the suicide death of a daughter or son.
The occasion I remember most was the totally unexpected action taken by a young man, well off, outgoing, with the world in front of him.
He was a friend of my daughter through their school life and had just embarked on what was shaping as a successful business career. In his early twenties, he still lived at home with his parents and younger sister, and family life was good. Then, on this particular night, the young man had been partying in the city with friends and, because he’d had a few drinks, left his car and took a taxi home. He had been upbeat all night and there was not a sign of what was to come.
Fact is, his mother went into his bedroom in the morning to check on him. What she saw has changed her life forever. Her beloved son was hanging lifeless from the ceiling light fitting.
When I met with the family in their home two days later, the grief from father and sister was harrowing enough but from Mum, there was a sorrow that was beyond any comforting.
It was only after joining the Board of Australian Rotary Health in 2013 that I learned about the extent and ongoing impact of mental illness in our country. Now, as Chairman for the next three years, I believe we in Rotary can change things for the better in the future by increasing research into mental illness prevention.
That’s what Lift the Lid on Mental Illness is all about, supporting researchers as they look for answers. They tell me that given time and opportunity, most mental illness will be preventable. Professor Michael Sawyer, Medical Adviser to the ARH Board, explains the value of research quite simply when he says that it wasn’t that long ago that if you had conditions like diabetes and gangrene, you died. It was only after thousands of hours of research that successful treatment was developed.
An important plank of our Lift the Lid strategy will be our Adopt A Scientist campaign. This will be an ongoing initiative where the public and business sectors are invited to support an area of mental illness they choose, and donate online. It’s wonderful that media advertising company Dentsu Mitchell is helping us on a pro bono basis in promoting Adopt a Scientist.
From October, there will be nine areas of mental illness research that we are targetting. These are: Depression, Anxiety, Youth Mental Health, Suicide and self-harm, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), Substance abuse, Eating and body disorder, Schizophrenia/bipolar, Dementia.
For Rotarians from D800 Clubs approaching the general public in October this year (Mental Health Month), we invite them to collect for Lift the Lid in any legal way they choose. Clubs will need to provide their own collection containers and remember, as our District Director of Governance David Whiting reminds us, we all have to be compliant with the relevant Victorian regulations.