When Brisbane woman Donna Thistlethwaite told her partner, Greg, that she was going out to buy groceries on a Sunday morning in August 2012, he could never have predicted what event was about to transpire.
The mother of one left her home in Everton Park and drove to Brisbane’s iconic Story Bridge, where she would eventually jump, plummeting some 40 meters, in an effort to end her life.
She’d been struggling with feelings of insecurity and self-doubt since returning to her much-loved career in Human Resources from maternity leave, and became convinced that she would be fired from the career she had spent 17 years building.
“I felt that everything was out of control and that I was at risk of losing my job. I usually had everything under control and was seen as very capable,” she says.
Over a period of 7 – 10 days, her world started to unravel and she truly believed that ending her life was the only solution. That her partner and two-year-old son, Matthew, would be better off without her.
That morning, she drove to the bridge, pacing back and forth several times, before taking off her shoes, climbing over the fence, and then falling. She remembers the initial panic and fear as she fell, and the sense of calm that overtook her, before hitting the wintery waters below. She remembers the sharp, icy sting that came with hitting the water, and the pain in her body. She remembers surfacing, looking back up at the bridge. And then, Donna remembers nothing before waking up in the ER.
Pulled from the water by a passing ferry whose crew members were shocked to find Donna, head submerged in the water, but still conscious; miraculously Donna survived. A feat that, until that time, had been unheard of. 15 people attempted suicide by jumping from the Story Bridge in 2012 alone. Donna is the only survivor.
Donna recently decided to share her story with ABC’s Australian Story, in a bid to help reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health. By sharing her story, Donna hopes that those struggling with thoughts of suicide will be able to see that it is not the only solution; that life can be great again.
“In the lead up to Australian Story I had been getting a strong feeling that I was meant to share the story with a wider audience. I knew that getting the story out could potentially help lots of people and I trusted them to be able to do it well and with the right intention.”
With no history of mental health issues, Donna struggled with these new thoughts of self-doubt and was too embarrassed to share them with her husband, something that she now sees as paramount in recovery from and management of mental health and suicide prevention.
“I think having conversations about mental health and suicide is part of what’s needed to reduce the stigma. The more we talk about it, the more people realise that they’re not the only one who feels this way at different times in life,” she says.
The fight to dispel the stigma surrounding mental health is something that Burleigh-based foundation, LIVIN, is infinitely passionate about. LIVIN was founded by two mates, Sam Webb and Casey Lyons, after they lost their friend Dwayne Lally to suicide in 2013. At the core of LIVIN’s mission is the mantra ‘It Ain’t Weak to Speak’. Their mission is to encourage and inspire people to speak up and seek help. Through education and awareness, LIVIN is influencing change with a fresh new approach to mental health.
“It was the stigma that kept Dwayne quiet and suffering in silence, so to speak. He always had a smile on his face; nobody had any idea he was suffering. We want people to know that ‘it ain’t weak to speak’ and encourage them to speak up when they’re struggling,” the foundations Co-Founder, Casey Lyons says.
“Mental illness is just like any other disease such as cancer or diabetes, however there is immense stigma and very little conversation made on mental illness in comparison. For too long, it has been perceived as a weakness. We will change this.”
LIVIN’s founders believe there is an array of issues within society which contribute to the stigma surrounding mental illness, including lack of education and understanding.
“Looking back at when we were at school, we weren’t educated on what mental illness is and what can be done about it. Instead we were taught about physical illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. Mental illness is not a common topic of conversation and is treated completely different to any physical injury or illness.”
A large social media presence, apparel range, programs and celebrity endorsement has put LIVIN in the public sphere, connecting those who need it to information and resources.
“We can save the lives of individuals if we change the way society understands, perceives and interprets mental illness,” Co-Founder Sam Webb says.
“Speaking up is a sign of strength. Find someone that you trust and let them know you are struggling. If you find it too difficult to open up to them initially, you might find it easier to write them a letter, send them a text or even paint them a picture of your thoughts. If you can, go to your GP and speak to them about the options and support available as this can kick start your treatment and recovery. Remember though, remain patient as it can take some time to find the right plan and people to help you get back on track. Once you find the plan and it works for you, your life will become more enjoyable again.”
“While we aim to be proactive on the preventative front, we want to be able to support those impacted by mental illnesses and their loved ones. We believe speaking up can be an extremely effective strategy which everyone can do with the right support and guidance, and LIVIN is happy to provide that guidance to anyone wanting to make that positive change. Some of the initiatives we are implementing to reduce the stigma include LIVINwell, a school-based program aimed at educating the younger generations on how to identify mental illness and where they can get themselves or others help. Speaking up to get help is the single most important part of preventing suicide and through this program we want to eradicate the silence that often surrounds mental illness.”