BY now Carlo Laruccia is in Europe making final preparations to walk 1000 kilometres along the Camino de Santiago in Spain to raise money for beyondblue and Suicide Prevention Australia.
The walk, which will take him six weeks, is about letting go of some of the pressures and stresses of life, but at the same time will raise funds and lift the profiles of organisations that support those with mental illness and tackle the stigma of suicide.
Six years ago Melbourne-based Mr Laruccia was married and had transformed star turns at high school and university into a highly successful career in corporate finance.
But he said there was part of him that felt empty and he found himself in situations where he felt less than adequate and unable to cope.
“Things started to spiral from there,” he said.
“Why was my situation different from others?
“Why didn’t I have the ability to reach out for help?
“I didn’t have the confidence or the trust. I internalised everything.”
The more it can be normalised, the more we can encourage people to seek help, the better the situation may be.
Mr Laruccia said he was experiencing depression, anxiety and psychosis that resulted in him believing things that weren’t true, with a mind that was filled with utter confusion and fear.
“When I was asked if I was suicidal I denied it. I didn’t feel comfortable admitting it, it was shameful,” he said.
“There was a fear that if I do say it, what was going to happen to me?
“If I say I am, was I going to get locked up?”
When he did finally seek help, Mr Laruccia was diagnosed with a polar disorder. He spent a month or so as a hospital inpatient and then three years in outpatient and day programs as he recovered.
As a result of his breakdown and his attempts at taking his life his relationship broke down and he and his wife divorced.
It has taken six years studying what he now calls his “PhD of life” — a combination of life skills, resilience, connecting with his feelings and relaxation.
Now Mr Laruccia said he had learned what he needed to be happy and to remain well.
“It’s OK to make mistakes; the mistakes are not me,” he said.
“What has not gone well enough or right enough is not part of me.”
Not only that but he also feels comfortable enough to be asked about the feelings behind his own suicide attempts and share with others how they can seek help in their own crises.
“Over the past year and a half I have felt a strong willingness to use my experience to give back to the community,” he said.
THERE has been limited research in Australia into the experience of those who have survived a suicide attempt, according to national mental health charity SANE Australia’s suicide prevention manager, Sarah Coker.
“Many studies have focused on prevention or clinical and expert opinion, neglecting the personal and lived experience of people who have survived a suicide attempt,” Ms Coker said.
“We have also tended to focus on those bereaved by suicide but slowly we are starting to fill the gaps.”
Last month SANE Australia and the University of New England released new research that found a common feeling among people at the time of their attempted suicide was of hopelessness and that their “mental pain” would never end.
The study of 31 Australians who had made an attempt on their life, from both city and regional areas, found many felt they were “a burden” and believed their family would be better off without them.
“What was surprising was the level of mental anguish they felt,” Ms Coker said.
“There was a theme that people felt they were a burden.
“Their response was one of extreme mental pain, that if they left the picture it would be better for everyone else.”
Ms Coker said the study found those living in regional areas could feel more supported in a smaller community, but at the same time experience difficulties in accessing effective treatment.
“But it can be difficult to get treatment anywhere because there is such pressure on services whether they are in the city or in the country,” she said.
“People who have survived a suicide attempt are extremely vulnerable and unfortunately they can encounter negative, dismissive or discriminating attitudes, which make them feel they are not deserving of help.”
Ms Coker said more training programs were needed to upskill existing health professionals to recognise those at risk of suicide and direct them to effective treatment.
She said greater support was also needed for family and friends involved in the care of those recovering from mental illness.
“Things are improving in lots of ways,” she said.
“We are more understanding of the complexities of those with mental illness and we are better at being able to talk about suicide.
“I think we are moving in the right direction in making treatments and help available to those who present at hospital after a suicide attempt.”
MORE than half of those interviewed for the survey by SANE Australia say they have since supported someone else contemplating suicide and they say it is their experience that highlights the need for everyone to understand how to support others and to take time to be with them at a time of crisis.
During and since his recovery, Carlo Laruccia has been approached twice by those seeking his help and he has completed a mental first aid course, giving him the skills to talk about a subject he felt had previously been “clinicalised”.
“Even asking a person ‘are you OK?’ can be confronting,” he said.
“There is a feeling that you are responsible for the answer or that you need to fix the issue.
“Instead, it’s about empathising and connecting with that person.
“Asking someone ‘Are you suicidal? Are you planning on killing yourself?’ makes it real for the person. It’s about providing care and concern.”
Mr Laruccia said had he been able to share his fears in the same way at the height of his illness, the outcome may have been different.
“I always had the belief the experiences I went through were quite extreme.
“The more it can be normalised, the more we can encourage people to seek help, the better the situation may be.”
Mr Laruccia said his passion was now to help others to share their experiences and in turn promote their recovery.
He is a speaker and ambassador for beyondblue, and three years on from his first walk on the Camino de Santiago as part of his rehabilitation he has returned to Spain to give something back to a cause he feels so strongly about.
“That perception that those who suicide are selfish; what people don’t understand is that the pain is so difficult and you don’t have the life skills to cope,” Mr Laruccia said.
“Suicide is a devastating loss of life but we can educate, we can reach out.”
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Kids Help Line: 1800 551 800
SANE Australia: 1800 187 263 (Mon-Fri 9am to 5pm)
Suicide Helpline Victoria: 1300 651 251
NSW Rural Mental Health Support Line: 1800 201 123
Gateway Community Health: 1800 657 573