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

Throughout the Herald's Break The Silence series about youth suicide, we have published first-person pieces from individuals closely related to the issue and experts in the field. Today, Lynn Charlton reflects on her own experience of depression and how it prompted her to become a psychotherapist. In her own words:

Thirty-nine years ago, in 1978, I tried to kill myself in the seventh form at Auckland Girls' Grammar School. I was 19 years old and had been suicidal for two years. The school's response? I was expelled.

A year later I tried again. After coming out of ICU at Auckland Hospital I was committed to Carrington Psychiatric Hospital.


I spent four years of my youth going in and out of hospitals for chronic depression, anxiety and attempts on my own life. Doctors have told me I should not have survived.

Through the 1980s I tried all sorts of short-term therapies - medications, cognitive-behavioural therapy, psychodrama, meditation, counselling, exercise, relaxation exercises and positive thinking.

The emptiness and despair I felt inside, however, always returned.

In 1987 I began long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy three times a week - with significantly reduced fees - and began a journey that writing about, even now, brings tears to my eyes.

It was the most profound experience I have ever had.

At times deeply painful, almost unbearably so, at times exhilarating, I travelled the world - my inner world, plumbing depths I had not known existed.

I needed to talk about, address and grieve the complicated and painful childhood experiences I had had. It was this I would learn, this that would save me.

I came from an ordinary family, much like any other. My parents were sad underneath that ordinariness, though no-one could see it, burdened with their own undealt-with childhood pain in Post-War Britain.


Attempting to escape their pain and make a better life in the 1960s and 70s they moved our family from Britain to Australia, then to New Zealand, then South Africa, back to England, finally returning here to NZ when I was 16.

It didn't work of course, and the regular moving disrupted my schooling and sense of belonging, attachment, relationships and identity, and brought profound and repeated losses which occurred in a family that was already emotionally distant and unable to express feelings.

I learned from this that you cannot escape the past by moving to another country - the past and all your unhappiness goes with you.

After five years of thrice-weekly therapy, and becoming more emotionally stable and robust than I had ever known it was possible to be, I just had to become a psychotherapist.

The transformation of my own life was so profound I wanted to help others struggling as I had. I began training and continued with my own therapy, though now, not out of dire need.

I saw my first patient in July 1993, and almost a quarter century later continue to practise as a psychodynamic psychotherapist.

It is a little scary to "come out" in this way publicly, but it is you I am telling this story to, you who feel you cannot go on.


What you are feeling right now is survivable. You don't know that right now because of where you are. You think it will always feel this way.

Many, many of us have been where you are and not only survived, but thrived. We recovered from terrible, wretched suicidal despair and depression.

For me, the pain was my story, a story that needed to be told, listened to, understood, and made sense of - because it did make sense.

If, like me, you need help to do that, then find that help. Keep trying until you find someone that does "get" you. Those people are out there.

Depression and suicidal feelings arise for different reasons in different people. For some it may occur due to wretched life circumstances - I think now of farmers and the despair some of them feel over financially going under.

For others, they may not know why, or feel overwhelmed by life. For some it may be abuse and neglect - even the hidden sort that appears on the surface to be privileged, middle-class and educated.


Psychotherapy is not right for everyone. Some prefer a different approach to try to deal with emotional pain, and if it works for them, then that is what matters.

One of the wonderful things about us humans, is that we can heal and recover psychologically. Never forget that.

Did I think I would survive? Absolutely not. Am I glad I did? I can never tell you how much.


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:

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.