Coming to terms with suicide of a loved one

By Martin Johnston

The death of a family member or friend is always traumatic. When it is self-inflicted, the emotions and unanswered questions can even lead to mental illness among the bereaved.

Ian Morris (fourth from left), with fellow Th' Dudes members Bruce Hambling, Lez White, Peter Urlich and Dave Dobbyn, suffered from depression. Photo / Becky Nunes
Ian Morris (fourth from left), with fellow Th' Dudes members Bruce Hambling, Lez White, Peter Urlich and Dave Dobbyn, suffered from depression. Photo / Becky Nunes

When someone takes his or her own life, their family and close friends can be left shocked at what depths of despair drove their loved one to act in this way.

The Youth Development Ministry's guideline document, "After a suicide", says the normal reactions to a self-inflicted death can include shock, numbness, disbelief, anger, blaming, guilt, shame and panic.

"After hearing about a suicide, the first days can seem like a blur.

"There is a lot of information to take in, difficult decisions to make and hard things to deal with. It is important to look after yourself."

"Grief is a normal human response after a loss, such as death.

"It helps a person to adjust to what has happened.

"It is completely normal to feel emotions such as shock, numbness, fear, anger or any number of a combination of different emotions after a suicide," the guideline document says.

"... there is no 'right or wrong' way to grieve and you need to allow yourself the right to do this in whatever way works for you.

"This is part of the healing process."

But for some people, the guideline notes, the death leads them to think about taking their own life.

"When someone finds they are thinking about suicide a lot, or planning to act on their thoughts, it is necessary to get help as soon as possible."

On this page are interviews the Herald had with two people who have been bereaved by suicide.

'I'll still hear a song and think, what would Ian think of that verse?'

Ian Morris was a highly successful musician and founding member of the pop/rock band Th' Dudes. He also suffered from depression.

Aged 53, he took his own life in Napier in October 2010, while he was in what coroner Christopher Devonport said was an apparent state of despair.

In the weeks before his death, he had been receiving counselling related to his separation from his wife - When the Cat's Away singer Kim Willoughby - raising his children on his own, and career issues, which he considered lowered his self-esteem, Mr Devonport said.

"The counsellor states that Mr Morris' depression did not appear severe during the counselling sessions, and his death was unexpected. Mr Morris presented to his counsellor as devoted to his daughters, and had future plans to visit Italy for an extended period when his daughters finished school."

Peter Urlich, Th' Dudes' vocalist, was a lifelong friend of Morris'.

"We had been mates since Form One. That's where Dave [Dobbyn], Ian and I met up, at Sacred Heart College [in Auckland]."

Urlich was shocked by his friend's death, although in another way, "I wasn't 100 per cent shocked. I always knew Ian was quite fragile and could be insular. I always knew that he found life just ... absurd. Talking about it now, it makes me feel like I wish I had seen so much more of him because he was a unique person. I miss him every day.

"Sharing so much, especially music, which is a huge part of my life, I'll still hear a song now and think, 'I wonder what Ian would think of that verse?', or that chorus, or the effect that they've got on that drum?

"Some people might say we took it all too seriously. In the end, though, we didn't take anything seriously because we all found life absurd - or parts of it.

"I find life absurd, but I have something else that keeps me on track. Unfortunately, Ian mustn't have had that thing that hooks him back into life."

Urlich said it was the ability to love himself, a good self-image, and the love of others that hooked him back into life, despite its absurdity. "I've got a lot of people around me who approve of me, love me and give me worth ..."

'He just didn't want to be here any more'

Logan Millar was described by the coroner who examined his death as "an intelligent and capable businessman who manufactured and distributed party pills".

Mr Millar, who lived in his $3.25 million Campbells Bay home on Auckland's North Shore, was 31 when he took his own life in October 2007.

"He had recently been experiencing difficulties with his business and had become very stressed about the situation," said coroner Murray Jamieson. "His partner, his sister and his accountant became concerned about his mental health and contacted his doctor. His doctor stated that Mr Millar had been treated for depression over the four months before his death, and that the mental health service of the Waitemata District Health Board had been consulted."

His partner, Michaiah Simmons, told the Herald she didn't really feel anger over Mr Millar's death.

"I was more frustrated that I had tried to help him. There was really just nothing that seemed to get through to him and ... what was really bad in his mind [the business woes] wasn't all that bad and was totally fixable. It wasn't worth ending it for.

"But by the same token, because I personally suffer from it as well I could understand him in a way ... he really just didn't want to be here any more."

Ms Simmons, 29, who has an events management and catering company, said she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was 15 and had been suicidal at times. She had suffered bipolar episodes over the years and Mr Millar's death had brought on another.

"I lost a lot of friends through that whole period of time. The impact it had on me mentally and personally was also quite hard. One of the main things was I felt very lonely. I spent nearly two years on my own. It was surprising to me the people that came forward and were supportive towards me and the people that stopped talking to me through that whole period."

Miss Simmons said New Zealand was slowly getting better at talking about mental illness and suicide, but still needed to become more open and honest.

"I remember not ever talking about any of my own pain when I was younger because there was no awareness around it and I did not want to be seen as being a bad person or even worse being ostracised because of what was going on in my head."

She has a new partner, Luca Villari, and they are engaged to be married.

"We have a great life together. I have done my best to move on and continue with my life. It is hard. It has just become part of my life, my history now."

Who can you contact?

If you're concerned about a person's safety following the suicide of someone close, contact:

* A doctor
* The mental health service at your district health board
* A public hospital emergency department
* Ring 111

For help with depression or suicidal thoughts:

* Youthline 0800 376 633
* Depression Helpline 0800 111 757 or depression.org.nz
* Youth depression website thelowdown.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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