Robyn Dodd lost her son Daniel to suicide in 2011 and is now raising awareness in the community about mental health, Friday, July 26, 2019.
Robyn Dodd lost her son Daniel to suicide in 2011 and is now raising awareness in the community about mental health, Friday, July 26, 2019. Kevin Farmer

Eight years on, mum still haunted by son's suicide

IN ROBYN Dodd's home sits a mantelpiece stacked with photos of a young Daniel Dodd, his rugby league jersey draped from the wall above - all reminders of her beloved son before February 2, 2011.

That was the day the second eldest of her eight children took his own life.

Daniel's suicide sent shock waves of grief through his close-knit family, his beloved rugby league club the Mitchell Magpies, his friends and the town.

The sudden loss of a son, a brother, a teammate and friend still haunts the Mitchell community.

Daniel told his mates the night before he died he would "see them tomorrow". He had a trip booked that weekend to go play golf in Alice Springs.

Nobody had any idea the 23-year-old was battling mental health issues.

Eight years later and his mother, Robyn Dodd, still struggles with what happened to her son.

"He was always so happy. I find that the hardest part, that I didn't see the signs," Ms Dodd said.

"I had no idea this could ever have happened.

"Daniel was the life of the party, he was always there for his mates, he would even stay with them if they were going through a hard time.

"We were just all in shock, and still today the hardest part is not knowing.

"Another mum (whose son also committed suicide) told me that for her it wasn't a matter of if, but when.

"But for me there were no warning signs. What I had seen of Daniel in the months before he passed it looked like it was the happiest time of his life. It was so hard to comprehend."

As an indigenous man, Daniel was statistically more likely to take his own life. Australian Department of Health data shows the rate of suicide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is twice that of non- indigenous, with a ratio of 2.0 for males and 1.9 for females.

More than 700 people filled Mitchell Hall for Daniel's funeral, with some of the town's students writing letters to the family.

Ms Dodd said for a long time she was haunted by Daniel's death.

"I would ask myself over and over 'Why? Why did he do this? Why didn't I see the signs?'," she said.

"We were so close knit, but after Daniel took his life there really was a domino effect and the mental health of some of my other children really suffered, they didn't know how to cope.

"We grieved as individuals and not as a family, but we had an incredible support system around us."

At the end of 2011, the family made the decision to move to Toowoomba.

"One of the hardest things was learning to live without your loved one, and sadly Mitchell had many reminders of Daniel," she said.

"We were lucky that our little community of Mitchell gave us a lot of support."

RIPPLE EFFECT

Daniel's suicide, like every other in small rural communities, ignited grief throughout the town of Mitchell and the Maranoa.

For every suicide it is estimated at least 80 people are directly affected, according to South West Hospital and Health Service regional adversity coordinator Gavin Johannesen.

"Most people don't know what to say to a person with suicidal thoughts," he said.

"Most people with thoughts of suicide don't truly want to die but are struggling with pain in their lives."

Through a number of community-based organisations, Mr Johannesen's team hopes to educate the public to recognise these situations and take action by connecting with intervention resources, including psychologists and mental health workers.

"It's a way of getting a conversation going with people at risk of self-harm or suicide," he said.

RISING STATISTICS

Each year more than a dozen suicides tear through southwest Queensland communities at a rate higher than what's seen in metropolitan areas.

Small rugby league club the Mitchell Magpies has lost multiple players, friends and family to suicide in the past decade.

"Within 10 years the club lost three blokes to suicide," Ms Dodd said about Daniel's rugby league club.

"And we're indigenous as well - the statistics of young indigenous male suicide is like three times higher than the regular rates, especially in rural areas."

Gathering up-to-date data on suicide is difficult but the latest report by the Australian Institute of Suicide Research and Prevention on Suicide in Queensland has statistics from 2011-13.

Data gathered from the Greater Western Queensland, North West, Central West and South West Hospital and Health Services in the three-year period reveals 59 suicides were reported in the region of 74,453 people, representing an age standardised rate of 27.3 per 100,000.

In this data, the suicide rate for west Queenslanders is significantly higher than the rest of the state.

Of the suicides, young males were the highest represented, totalling 41 deaths or 69.5per cent.

Professor David Crompton from AISRAP said there were many reasons why the rate spiked in certain areas.

"There is an assumption the rate of suicide increases, but that is likely incorrect," Prof Crompton said.

"There are many factors behind an increase or decrease in suicide rates, so while we standardise these they can give false impressions."

But for Ms Dodd, she has experienced first hand the devastation of suicide in the Maranoa region.

"Nothing seems to be working, we really need to be having these conversations and encouraging our men they can talk to us."

HELP IS HERE

A new mental health facility will soon begin construction in Roma. The Headspace centre, set to open in 2020, will be the second hub west of the Great Dividing Range.

The first Headspace centre was established 1400km away in Mt Isa

The $1.53million project aims to provide support for young people in the bush battling mental health issues, with plans for face- to-face information and services to those aged 12-25.

Headspace estimates one in four people aged 16-25 experience mental illness, with three-quarters of all mental illnesses manifested before the age of 25.

Maranoa MP David Littleproud said early intervention was key.

"Young people and mental health is one of the biggest issues raised with me, and that's why I've secured this new facility," he said.

"This new service is part of our Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan and will not only help the town but our entire region."

The facility will allow young people to access the type of support they need, whether it's a GP, psychologist, social worker, alcohol and drug worker, counsellor, vocational worker or youth worker.

"I just want young people to know there is help available and they are never alone," Mr Littleproud said.

DANIEL'S LEGACY

Nothing will bring Daniel back, but Ms Dodd has done all she can to preserve his memory and legacy.

"He may be gone in body but he is not gone in spirit. We still celebrate his birthday and he is here with us at Christmas.

"When he turned 30 we had a charity golf day in Mitchell where we raised money for the footy club and for suicide awareness.

"This August we are running the Bridge to Brisbane and will be donating funds to R U OK.

"There is more awareness but I really do think there needs to be more," she said.

"We can't bring him back but if I can help just one other family not go through what we have."


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