A mother whose 14-year-old son suicided after numerous self-harming attempts said the NSW health sector had let her son down after he tried to get help.
A mother whose 14-year-old son suicided after numerous self-harming attempts said the NSW health sector had let her son down after he tried to get help.

Mum grieving son's says ’health system failed him’

A Gerringong mother who lost her "bright and caring" child to suicide in July says he was "basically kicked out on the street" when seeking help before his death.

Celina Gregory's 14-year-old son suicided after self-harming on and off for six months.

Ms Gregory said her son "wanted help and wanted to get better" but was let down by the health sector.

Earlier this year, she was told by a youth worker he was self-harming.

"His friends had bravely told the youth centre, which was a great help," Ms Gregory said.

The counsellor and family mediator knew the right questions to ask someone contemplating suicide.

"I knew I needed to be quite direct. He responded openly and honestly," Ms Gregory said. "He said he thought about suicide every day so I took him to Shellharbour Hospital the first time and was sent home."

Several weeks later he attempted suicide again and told his mum the following day.

Ms Gregory said what followed was a series of obstacles to access mental health assistance.

"He wanted help and wanted to get better. I took him to the Shellharbour emergency department and a mental health nurse said some­thing like: 'The hospital's not a magic bullet', implying we may as well go home," she said.

"There was no way I was taking him home this time. I insisted on waiting for a psychiatrist, who didn't have many suggestions either. I had to ask him about the adolescent mental health unit at the hospital, which hadn't been offered at that point."

Her son ended up being admitted to hospital for two nights, then the mental health adolescent unit for three days over the weekend, before being discharged.

"As they discharged him against our wishes, I told the psychiatrist: 'If anything happens to him I'd never be able to forgive myself'. And he said: 'If someone's going to do it, they'll just do it'," she said.

"It was very unhelpful ­advice. We left with no safety plan, no resources. Nothing."

Ms Gregory said a Wollongong Hospital mental health worker, who followed up a few days later, was "the only positive in the whole process".

Tragically, Ms Gregory's son took his life three weeks later, just 15 minutes after she had been with him.

"We had a pretty bad ­experience with the health system, to be honest. He was ­kicked out on the street, ­really," she said.

"There's a real lack of ­resources and very little 24-hour care for adolescents.

"He had absolutely everything going for him. He was caring, bright and had a beautiful soul. He was funny. But he didn't have hope that things would ever change for him. That was a real struggle."

Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD) director of mental health Julie ­Carter said Shellharbour hospital could not comment on ­individual matters.

ISLHD has appointed a Clinical Nurse Consultant to manage the health response.

How suicide campaigner's family survived tragedies

While daughters across Sydney embrace their fathers today, 19-year-old Coogee girl Josie Larkin will wait until Thursday to toast her dad.

It has been almost nine years since Josie's dad, suicide prevention campaigner and founder of RU OK? Day Gavin Larkin died of cancer at 42.

Today is the one day of the year Josie feels her dad's absence most keenly but Thursday's annual R U OK? day is when she will feel closest to him.

"Father's Day is a day when we really miss him," she said.

"R U OK? Day coming around every year makes it feel like Dad's still with us. I feel grateful when people say I remind them of Dad."

Maureen Vaughn, Josie Larkin and Maryanne Larkin are the mother, daughter and wife of RUOK founder Gavin Larkin, who died of cancer eight years ago. Picture: Richard Dobson
Maureen Vaughn, Josie Larkin and Maryanne Larkin are the mother, daughter and wife of RUOK founder Gavin Larkin, who died of cancer eight years ago. Picture: Richard Dobson

Josie, an aspiring primary school teacher, shares the same confidence and eloquence that made her dad such an effective campaigner, which is why she is the ideal person to carry on his legacy, according to her grandmother Maureen Vaughan, 78.

Gavin started the charity after his father Barry died by suicide in 1996.

Gavin could not shake the sickening feeling a conversation could have saved his father, who isolated himself as he descended into depression in the eight months before his death.

While he could not have known then, Gavin's efforts to normalise tough conversations about mental health would be the glue that held his family together through successive tragedies.

Two years after Gavin's death, his 15-year-old son Gus died of a brain tumour and the surviving Larkin family members would need people to ask if they were OK.

"Gavin left R U OK? for the community, but he didn't realise he had built a community around us, where everyone was going to make sure we were OK," Gavin's widow Maryanne, 53, said.

"Luckily, I've had an amazing number of people around me that have helped keep me afloat - friends and family included - and believe me, it's been my saviour.

"It's bittersweet that Gavin managed to impart this gift for everybody but particularly for his own wife and his kids, because it's something that we really needed in our own lives."

Thursday's twelfth staging of R U OK? Day is all about how to navigate a conversation with someone who reveals they are not OK.

The next step is to listen without interrupting or rushing the conversation, with questions such as "how are you feeling about that?" or "how long have you felt that way?".

From there it is important to encourage action with a question such as "what's something you can do for yourself right now?" or suggest they seek counselling if their sombre mood last longer than a fortnight.

The final step is to check in with genuine care and concern, with phrases such as "I've been thinking of you and wanted to know how you've been going since we last chatted".

Learn what to say after R U OK? at ruok.org.au



Originally published as Mum grieving 14yo's suicide: 'Health system failed my son'

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