Hope in the midst of grief and family upheaval
For several years, the Care and Concern Ministry Team at West Epping Uniting Church have invited speakers to evening forums to discuss a range of issues. Recently our church hosted Nic Newling to discuss mental health and suicide intervention. Nic Newling featured on “Australian Story” in April 2015 and discussed the impact of suicide within his own family. He talked with a great deal of affection about his parents and his brothers and discussed the effects of his own mental health. Nic now works on a national online program for young people through the Black Dog Institute and is the community ambassador for RUOK.
Our invitation to Nic to discuss his “lived experience” grew from awareness that suicide is a growing issue, yet some people are uncomfortable about discussing mental health and suicide.
Nic talked about his older brother, Christopher, who suicided 13 years ago. Nic recalled the impacts of his brother’s suicide on his family – they stopped eating dinner together and instead, ate in front of the TV. They ceased celebrating Christmas. Last year was the first Christmas celebration they had in 12 years.
Nic was eventually diagnosed with bipolar when he was 17 years old. It was astonishing to hear it can take about 20 years from onset to get the correct diagnosis. During his school years, Nic learned to wear masks to hide his unhappiness. Nic described depression as an absence of happiness and a presence of sadness. Nic said that ‘talk therapy’ has helped him as well as getting out and meeting people. Music and art therapy have helped Nic to express himself when words are difficult.
A friend told Nic some time ago, “You can’t change your history but you can change how you look at it.” His mum, Jayne, felt lots of guilt. She wrote a memoir about Christopher, titled “Missing Christopher”. The book won last year’s Human Rights Award.
In the midst of grief and family upheaval, Nic also spoke of hope. For many years, Nic feared that if he told people, he would get a negative reaction. These days when he discusses his mental health issues, people are very positive and will discuss their own battles. Nic said that a person with a mental illness needs a great deal of help from professionals such as doctors and psychologists but he stated that family, friends and community are important for someone with mental illness.
Towards the end of the evening, Nic threw out a rhetorical question to the audience: “If you could hit a button, would you want to turn off mental illness?” Although stable now, Nick believes that he has learned through the experience and he has a resilience that he wouldn’t have had if he didn’t have mental health issues.
Some strategies he shared with us: If you ask someone how they are and the person tries to deflect, say “Can we find a time to chat if now is not a good time?” He also suggested stating one or two reasons for your concern, for instance, “I’ve noticed you’ve been crying.”
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