Warning: This article is about suicide and may be distressing for some readers.

Where to get help:

DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234

A year ago this week, Emma Harford arrived home to find police and paramedics outside her house.

Advertisement

The youngest of her two sons, Cole Henry Isaac Harford, 15, had left the warmth of the weatherboard bungalow and taken his own life.

The outwardly happy, popular and talented boy - loved by all who knew him - left without explanation.

His mother, older brother Kobi, family and friends were left with unanswered questions and a painful void in their lives.

Harford had taken Cole to the doctor for cold feet in the month before he died. He had lost interest in food and had moments of anger. All are symptoms of depression.

Since his death, Harford has learned her son was suffering from insomnia, another symptom.

No one recognised them.

Now she is urging health leaders to introduce health screening surveys for teens - similar to a Plunket check.

Heartbroken, Harford started writing diary entries about her loss in the hope of breaking down misconceptions of suicide.

Advertisement

The Herald is publishing 12 of those entries, two a day. Harford hopes sharing her words will provide insight into the pain caused by suicide and change attitudes around it. Here are her words to her son, and to the wider world:

Sunday, October 23, 2016 - A family history of suicide

This is an overdue conversation, and the hardest one I've had to date.

Hard, Painful. Confronting. Necessary.

My son's death is not our first; it is the third family suicide we have experienced.

In 2006, after a difficult period of relationship separation when my sons were only 8 and 4, their father also took his own life.

At the time I felt it was probably the worst thing I had ever been through. I can attest that losing my son feels infinitely worse.

READ MORE

Part one of Emma Harford's diary entries

Part two of Emma Harford's diary entries

Part four of Emma Harford's diary entries

Part five of Emma Harford's diary entries

Part six of Emma Harford's diary entries

See more from the Break The Silence series

I made a decision not to share the full details of their father's death with my sons. At that age they had a particular relationship with their dad and were still in the process of forming their own sense of self.

Four days ago I told my oldest son a truth he didn't know about, and now I have done this I can finally talk about something that happened to us that contextualises my son Cole's suicide, and makes the excruciating pain attached to his death more apparent.

In the past I've written about my life in a public space, but never ever discussed this event except with close friends and my family.

It had always been my intention to tell my sons the full story, but only when they were through adolescence. When they were through the difficult parts of being a youth to where they could separate themselves from their father's actions. Where they were clear in their minds who they were, what made them whole.

Cole's death accelerated the timing of this choice, and made it feel almost impossible to share with my oldest child.

I began to question whether I had done the right thing, and whether or not telling them would have helped save Cole's life. Had I killed my son with my silence?

I compensated in other ways in his life; I was hyper-vigilant with my care; I made sure I told the children all the time that I loved them; I protected them at every turn, talked openly about other forms of death, made sure I was in touch with where they were at with school, friends, their feelings.

Last year another young girl the boys went to high school with made the choice to end her life. It upset me immensely because despite not actually knowing her, I had seen her on the afternoon of the day she died. She was so beautiful she caused me to turn and watch her walk past.

I used the opportunity to talk about suicide, and demonstrate a clear example of how painful it was for the left behind.

They mused and agreed. I thought I had achieved my end goal, the most present and pressing point to my parenting, keeping my children alive.

I protected Cole from traffic, sunburn, other people, the cold, sibling fights but I could not protect my baby from his own mind.

In 2014, after a long battle with depression, my mother's youngest brother also took his own life. It was a numbing sense of disbelief we were there again in this space experiencing this heartache and that another child, my uncle's son, was going be without a dad.

His wife and I are irreversibly bonded by the loss of partners, but also the loss of her nephew and my son.

This week someone I've met in my life's journey revealed they had also lost a parent to suicide, but unlike me, their mother made the decision to tell them right from the start.

I got to see the flipside of the coin I had started to wish I had chosen the other side of.

The outcome wasn't necessarily any better. They had been straddled with other kinds of burdens and challenges caused by total disclosure.

I reiterated to myself that I had done the right thing.

All I know is our family has already been through so much, far more than any person should ever experience.

Emma Harford, whose son Cole, 15, took his life a year ago this week, says no parent should know the pain of losing a child to suicide. Photo / Mike Scott
Emma Harford, whose son Cole, 15, took his life a year ago this week, says no parent should know the pain of losing a child to suicide. Photo / Mike Scott

Tuesday, November 8, 2016 - What I though I knew vs what I didn't really know

My son was a popular kid. Not explicitly, but implicitly, quietly, off the radar.

He was smart, good-looking, part of a tight-knit group of boys, thoughtful, academic, curious. He was trustworthy, hardly ever complained, and exemplary in his reliability.

These things helped to hide the other things that might have been happening.

Reliability in and of itself can feel burdensome as you don't want to let people down, you don't want to disappoint anyone or hurt their feelings.

Left to your own mind this can become less of a virtue and more of a monkey on your back.

There were other things I didn't notice.

He got very cold, and often. I took him to the doctor a fortnight before he died because he was suffering from chilblains in his toes.

I tried to alleviate this with warm socks, foot baths and massages. I thought it was his shoes but it was so much more. Poor circulation can be an indicator of the presence of depression. I had no idea.

He stopped being interested in food. In the same period of time I took him to the supermarket and offered him the choice of anything he wanted to eat during the school holidays.

He gently refused me, citing our need to save money. It felt off at the time, but I didn't want to force him to do something he didn't want to do.

He was tired and having terrible trouble sleeping at night. This one is hard, hard for me because it wasn't me he told. He told his friends, and his brother, but without all the pieces none of us recognised the wider implications of his sleeplessness.

He spent a lot of time on electronic devices which might have over-stimulated him at bedtime, but I don't think this adequately explains the whole picture.

He slept a lot in the daytime, something I just had zero idea was potentially a warning sign.

He had started to exhibit anger. We sometimes heard him yell at his friends over the internet, but took it as good fun banter.

The week before he took his life, he very uncharacteristically hit his best friend but missed and hyper-extended his thumb on impact.

When he showed me the bruising I thought he had broken it. Boys engage in high-jinks. I thought it was nothing more than a bit of goofing round, except that my son wasn't physical at all.

He would get mad if something didn't go right and physically shake with frustration. I didn't realise how deeply his anger was running.

I underestimated his tendency to be anxious. He hated being late for school and would be palpably upset as it was mostly my fault if he was.

Even though I can say I genuinely felt terrible when it happened, I also thought it was good for him to learn to be flexible.

I also realise his immaculate room was less about pride and more about having control over the only thing in his life he could say was his.

A need to control environment is also about quelling anxious feelings.

Additionally he started to exhibit the presence of mouth ulcers with frequency. I put this down to tiredness but didn't make a link as I too suffered from them as a kid. I didn't realise they are a physical indicator of stress and anxiety, and the possibility of depression.

He never complained about anything. I took this to be another virtue. I thought him resilient, and not ruffled but I was so incredibly wrong.

A clean and tidy, seemingly resilient boy who never moaned or demanded anything for himself, never argued, achieved at school and had leadership qualities, who couldn't sleep, wasn't eating like he used to and was cold all the time.

I wish I had seen with some sense of focus what all these things meant, the unpalatable possibility that that kid I thought was going be the one who never had anything wrong, had the biggest thing wrong of all. Depression.

I never thought the black dog would visit upon my son, but maybe it did and I never saw it arrive, only the breath it stole from my beautiful boy on that cold Wednesday morning.

I would implore all parents to look under all the rocks, at all the possibilities, the things you don't think of. Turn the things you think are okay on a 45-degree angle and reexamine your view. Pay attention to appetites, sleep patterns, body temperature, subtle mood changes, mainly because I didn't.

I don't ever want someone I know to know the lifelong agony I've become resigned to having to learn to live with by having a child die before they do by this means.

Not this young, not without getting the chance to talk and support them through the hard stuff. No one should know this pain. No one.

• Support Youthline by donating via youthline.co.nz/breakthesilence.

WHERE TO GET HELP:

If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.

If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:

DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234

There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.