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Poorna Bell Headshot

For My Husband and the Boy He Used to Be

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By the time you read this, I will be on my way to New Zealand to see my husband Rob.

I have waited nearly nine months to see him. To tell him I love him, to press my bare feet into the grass of his family home, to spend as much time with him as possible.

This isn't the reunion you're expecting.

He won't be there to meet me at the airport. We won't be walking on the beach laughing at oystercatchers darting around, nor will we be holding hands underneath Auckland's vast blue sky that always seems so much bigger than anywhere else in the world.

Like a rainbow in sunlight, he is both here and not here because nine months ago, Rob took his own life after years of suffering from severe depression.

Rob died in Auckland, so I've had a lot of time to think since I last visited him at the cemetery, which now has a cross bearing his name and a little Kōwhai pot marking his grave until his mother and I pick a headstone together.

rob

My husband's name shouldn't be on a cross.

It should be on a park bench somewhere 40 years into the future to commemorate a spot that we liked sitting at, watching the river flow by, our bottoms wearing a comfortable groove.

In the search to find meaning and sense in Rob's death, I have read extensively around mental health to try and understand the suicidal mind. Maybe it's because somehow, I feel like I can soften the sheer unfairness of his passing with reason and logic.

I try despite knowing from people in my suicide support group, who have lost children, parents, siblings and spouses, that there will never be closure.

The only people we could ask have taken themselves and their words to a place beyond our reach.

But there are several things I do know. Not all people with mental health problems end up feeling suicidal, but the overwhelming majority of people who have died by suicide had mental health problems.

I also know that over 50% of adults with lifetime mental illness, actually began suffering when they were children.

Rob was from a loving, middle-class family, and by his own admission, was in this statistic. When he got proper psychiatric help in his thirties, he figured out that he probably started suffering from depression when he was very young - he thought as far back as 10.

However, he had no way of articulating it because he didn't understand it himself, and no one had the means, knowledge or tools to pick up on it.

In the last couple of years of his life, he spent a lot of time trying to figure out why he went from being this well-behaved, quiet child to a nightmarish teenager who pretty much did the opposite of anything he was told.

In his most vulnerable moments, he spoke of the bullying he endured when he used to be that clever, quiet little boy, and said that he still - in his 30s - ruminated over that time and how he felt.

rob

Rob as a boy


"Is that normal?" he asked me. I didn't know how to answer, so I did the only thing I could and just held him close.

Considering how vast the improvements are in treating mental illness nearly 25 years later, I wonder why things haven't changed anywhere near as effectively when it comes to identifying, supporting and helping children with mental illness.

For the majority of us, it is still very hard to recognise the difference between a teenager acting out and a teenager struggling with mental illness. For children younger than 14, it is even tougher because they are still not being given the language to describe what they might be feeling. Parents still feel utterly helpless because they don't know how to identify what is going on, how to help their child and deal with them beyond punitive measures.

While adult mental health is worryingly under-funded, there is little point pledging billions of pounds for a long-term fix. It is help sorely needed but it's also fire-fighting.

When we consider we could almost halve the number of people with mental illness by providing support when they are children, why isn't this being given the same priority?

Imagine the number of people you could save from a life of pain, some of whom are so tired of the darkness and despair, so tired of feeling like there is no end in sight, that they feel the only solution is to take their own life.

Imagine the impact it would have on an entire society, if we taught them from when they were young how to ask for help, that there is no such thing as 'normal' and how to deal with life when it gets challenging?

Better yet, let's stop imagining and start doing.

To me, it's unconscionable if we do nothing to help these children and parents, considering what we now know about how powerful intervention can be when it comes to a child's mental health.

In fact, if you consider today's children have the potential to represent the best that humanity has to offer, that they quite literally are our future, it is imperative that we do everything.

Young Minds Matter is a new series designed to lead the conversation with children about mental and emotional health, so youngsters feel loved, valued and understood. Launched with Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, as guest editor, we will discuss problems, causes and most importantly solutions to the stigma surrounding the UK's mental health crisis among children. To blog on the site as part of Young Minds Matter email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com