Pain of son’s suicide will never leave

HINDSIGHT: Beth Ellis remembers her son Robert, who died 25 years ago. She says the loss has been devastating to her family. Photo: Debrah Novak / The Daily Examiner
HINDSIGHT: Beth Ellis remembers her son Robert, who died 25 years ago. She says the loss has been devastating to her family. Photo: Debrah Novak / The Daily Examiner Debrah Novak

EIGHTEEN-year-old Robert Ellis was popular at school, good looking, and bright.

He was the second child of four and was well known in the community for his sporting achievements, having played first-grade cricket as well as footy with the Grafton Ghosts.

The year was 1989 and Robert was a cadet in mechanical engineering, but unknown to many, he was also suffering from undiagnosed depression.

At the time no-one could have known Robert was secretly planning to kill himself, least of all his mum Beth Ellis.

Looking back on the weeks leading up to his death, Beth said she could see something was bothering Robert, but when she talked to him about visiting a GP because he seemed 'down', he brushed her concerns aside. "I'm ok, I'll take care of it," Robert said.

On September 12, 1989, not long after 3pm, Robert locked himself in the family's shed. When his father came home to find him, it was already too late.

Twenty five years later, Beth says looking back there were other signs things weren't right with Robert. He had recently broken up with his girlfriend, left his job and was giving away his possessions.

"We can see it all in hindsight, but at the time we couldn't ever have thought," said Beth.

"He had it all; what people need to realise is that depression and suicide can affect anyone - look at Robin Williams, he was smart and funny - it doesn't discriminate.

"My belief is that you don't wake up of a morning and decide kill yourself; you have to be depressed, and if you're depressed, you have to seek treatment.

"There is help out there, but if you don't seek treatment, you don't see the light at the end of the tunnel - it's black."

Beth said in the weeks following her son's death, she found it hard to cry and wondered if there was something wrong with her.

"But when the crying started, I couldn't stop. I was really angry too, but I did my best not to be angry in front of the other children," she said.

At the advice of her GP, Beth attended regular counselling with a psychologist for the next 12 months.

"It's probably the only thing that kept me going," she said.

"If there's one thing I want to impress upon people is that you've got to go on."

Being a registered nurse, Beth said she was lucky to have the support of her colleagues who listened and gave her time.

But friends and family can back away, not knowing what to say.

"Sometimes all they need to do is give a hug and maybe ask what they can do to help," she said.

While mental health services have improved over the past two decades, Beth says there is still an urgent need for more funding in the area of mental health services, including early assessment and interven


"We still haven't got enough mental health services in the area for families. People shouldn't be told, we'll put you on the list - they need to see someone straight away."

For 24-hour crisis support phone 13 11 14, or visit (8pm-4am AEST).

Topics:  grafton grief suicide

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