12 December 2017

Should we talk about this or not?

There are some who believe we should and others say no.

I’ve chosen to talk about it, because there is a heroine, Amelia, who made an impact and we can learn from her actions.

Recently life turned up while I was enjoying a glass of wine on a Sunday afternoon with the CQ team on our Christmas get together.

My daughter Gabby rang to say that her brother/my son Guy had attempted to take his own life in the early hours of Sunday morning. This was news I never thought I would receive. Ever. Why did I think that? Arrogance perhaps. Ignorance. All of the above? Whatever the reasons it just wasn’t on my radar. Especially as Guy had been through the most horrendous year in 2016, working as a contract milker for a family, who (in my opinion) valued money before people, and he had coped extremely well.

Just so no one is wondering, Guy has proof read this, is cool with me writing about his experience and happy for it to be published. Guy’s a brave bastard who I love dearly, and I’m very proud of his attitude to the aftermath of his attempted suicide. He’s cool with this because he knows we need to learn more about this epidemic that faces New Zealand. We need to talk about it, raise awareness and demystify it.

Briefly, here was his situation:

  • Things were going well on the farm
  • He enjoyed this contract milking job – good farm and supportive farmer
  • He was involved with the local Young Farmers club and enjoyed an active social scene
  • He had recently won the local young farmer competition
  • He had noticed he had been down and suffering some anxiety over the previous month

So what happened?

Amelia’s story:

It had already been a long night. Sober driving for friends can be fun, but after the Young Farmers events, I was wiped out. I finally managed to get the boys to leave the pub (much to their dismay!). On the drive home, Guy was louder than his normal self, and a lot more boisterous – drunk people yelling in a confined space is not that fun! I dropped Guy at his place, and had to go home to look after my own drunken partner. Just as I had put him to bed and had crawled into bed myself, I got a call from a mutual friend. He had been talking to Guy on the phone, and was truly worried. I was the only person he knew close enough (and sober) to go and support him.

I arrived at Guy’s place, not sure what to expect. I walked in and I could tell straight away Guy was not his normal self. I tried to talk to him about what was going on in his head. His cat – the one that kept him company on the farm – had been run over that morning. He kept saying it was no big deal, but it was. He was talking about his relationships, and kept saying I didn’t understand what he was going through. But the fact was – in that sense – I did. Once or twice Guy even mentioned his suicidal thoughts. From this point, I had an inclination he had depression. After over an hour of talking – and some yelling – I told him I needed to take a walk outside; I was so overwhelmed and was not equipped to deal with something of this magnitude.

As soon as I stepped out the door, I dialled 111. The Operator answered, and I was trying to talk to him, but I had a panic attack on the phone. He was an absolute angel, bringing me back from the brink, talking about mundane stuff like the All Blacks game later that night. I always stayed within eye sight of the lounge, keeping an eye out for Guy. 18 minutes into the call Guy turned off the lights in the house, put a warm jersey on, walked outside, and put on some boots. The cops were still not here yet.

Five minutes later, the first cop arrived. I told him the details, and we went inside to warm up. The constable and another cop arrived another five minutes after that. I told them everything, including the fact that I saw him walk outside – possibly down to his friend’s house down the road – and that he had mentioned suicide. They called the dog squad. In the meantime, two of the cops went and searched the milking shed and around the outside of the house. Over an hour had passed, and I was thinking the worst.

Finally, Guy came around the side of the house. He said the only reason he came back was for me. I broke down, this time from relief. I stayed outside for a while to calm down, then went inside. And heard he had tried to hang himself from a tree, and the only reason he didn’t try again, was because of me. He knew I would find him and he said he couldn’t do that to me.

The cops drove him up to the hospital, and his friend and I followed. He was seen pretty much straight away by the Crisis Team. She asked him so many questions, and he just talked. She determined he had clinical depression, and sorted a time for him to talk to the Psychiatrist on Monday. Together, we drove home. I had to go back and milk, then I just slept.

Following that, I barely slept for two days. When I did, I had nightmares and I was hearing things, like him calling my name while I was hosing down the yard or sitting in a quiet room. I went and saw my own Psychologist, and found out that following a traumatic experiences, our senses are heightened which explained why I was hearing things and seeing things while unconscious.

Guy is safe and on the road to recovery. And so am I. I have talked to him about this regularly; I didn’t want to hide how I was feeling. Although he was in a bad place, I wanted him to know I was too – although nowhere near the same level – so we could work through it together. I think of this experience like a deep cut, one of the cuts where you can see the muscle. The scar tissue that repairs the cut is stronger than before. And I know Guy, myself, and the rest of the people involved in this situation, including his family, are stronger and better off for it.

Harv again:

It appears that the combination of Guy being depressed and suffering anxiety, coupled with alcohol having a pharmacological/chemical effect, seemed to tip him over the edge. Personally, I recognise I have suffered with this when fatigued in the past.

There’s some great reading on this here: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/mental-health/alcohol-and-mental-health/#.WjGCJG2BdAE.email

The reality is that Guy continued to work on Monday, with his old man giving him a hand milking the cows, then going off to the hospital to get checked out at the local psych unit.

What transpired was a thorough and robust assessment, and a plan put in place to monitor his progress daily. No pandering or beating round the bush.

First question, do you want to live or die Guy?


Okay then let’s make sure this doesn’t happen again. It was evident that the psych unit was a well-oiled machine and they went through these interviews on a regular basis.

I was still trying to come to grips with where I was at, integrate I think is the word. Guy was in good humour and if you met him you would have no idea he was depressed.

I was trying to think WTF am I supposed to be doing? Then the Outward-Bound training kicked in – reach out when you are in new territory (high ropes), so I contacted the CQ facilitators. What a magnificent resource to have on hand.

So, the point of this Blog is because of the actions of Amelia the outcome was 100% different to what could have happened and we will be forever grateful. I asked her to outline her intervention so that others can maybe act as quickly and decisively as she did.

The other point I would like to make is that I believe Guy’s situation is directly attributable to the exhaustion from the previous session and not being able to recuperate before this season’s calving. He was working 90 hour weeks on an undeveloped farm that was purchased just before he started, and was emotionally bullied at the same time by the owners. This is a scourge of the Dairy Industry and needs to be addressed as quickly as possible so that more young farmers are not subject to this behaviour.

People like Stuart Taylor are working hard behind the scenes to address this right now, with initiatives like Millenniumfarming.co.nz https://www.facebook.com/TheY2KFarmer/. Good luck Millennium Farming, the country needs you.

I’m also a fan of Sam O’Sullivan’s work : http://toughtalk.nz/videos/#new-page and know that NZ males need to get better at feeling their feelings!

So, people everywhere. Let’s all be like Amelia and have the courage to help before it’s too late. Let’s ask the uncomfortable questions and start a conversation because it could save a life.

Ian Harvey (Harv)


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