There are so many things I could write about this incredible girl, Georgie, with whom I had the pleasure to meet on a Thursday morning in a little café in Henderson. I had been following Georgie on social media for about nine months, as another Instagrammer had recommended her account and the work Georgie had done for mental health advocacy. Georgie wears quite a few hats: she is a daughter, sister, partner, creator, advocate, a woman who has lost a parent to depression, and a sexual assault survivor. When we first started chatting, I was struck by how easy it was to talk to Georgie, and by our mutual desire to change the stigma surrounding mental health in New Zealand.
Georgie and I talked about a lot of things in a two-hour conversation, going through a number of topics, and I struggle to decide what to make the focus of this article. The first thing that struck me about Georgie is how open she was about what she had been through – she didn’t sugar-coat anything. Often on social media all you see is the good bits, not the struggles or grief or PTSD. She, on the other hand, is keeping it real and that’s what I think is incredible.
Georgie lost her dad to depression in October last year. A thing no person wants to go through. Since then she has spoken openly about depression in parents and has made a short film titled “Dear Dad”. I don’t think any amount of talking will ever be able to portray what it’s like to go through what her family has experienced. I see in her incredible strength and resilience way beyond her years. Georgie told me that, growing up, she didn’t know much of her dad’s struggles and, looking back, she believes (from a child’s perspective) it’s important that parents have – as much as they can – open and honest conversations about anxiety and depression with their children. Obviously, this would not be appropriate in every situation, but Georgie said it is really tricky for children to understand what it’s like for a parent suffering from a mental illness and she struggled to work around her dad’s needs when he was at his lowest points.
She talked about the people who supported her through this and continue to do so: mainly her family and her partner Sam. Her candid portrayal of the grief her family experienced has gone a long way in speaking out about suicide, especially among men in New Zealand. She talked about how key her mum was in helping their family get back on their feet and that life would go on, even though the world felt like it was crashing down. Georgie has two younger siblings and they all learnt to lean on each other while their mum was looking after their dad and in the time after her dad lost his battle.
“As much as that dark cloud loomed over our lives, my family and I have done a great job – in my eyes – of marching on through the battles we have faced. This includes dad, who marched through his mental health battles for as long as he could.”
Another venture that Georgie has begun is called “Finding Kowhai”. She has made a sticker to go on cars, trucks and many other spots. It speaks honestly about suicide and how it’s okay to not be okay. I now have one proudly stuck to the back of my car. Georgie had a dream to create something that could be seen and reach out to people in their everyday life. This simple but powerful idea came about when she powered with Speedy Signs to create a sticker, which says “Please don’t take your life today. It’s okay not to be okay”. There are now over 500 stickers on cars all around the country, including mine.
Below are a few thoughts in Georgie’s own words, which I’ve decided to leave as they are.
“I want people to take the view of "mental" out of mental health. Of course caring for someone with depression isn't easy, there are lots of ups and downs, good times and bad times. Yet it's the same as if you were looking after a loved one with cancer or caring for them after a tragic car accident – you still want to get them back on their feet. You would do anything for them and you just want to see them get better. So why do we shy away from those struggling with their own thoughts?”
“If your mate comes up to you and says they're having a tough day, you need to say back, whether in person or in a message, that you're so proud of them for being able to open up, because by them opening up to you it means you are aware they might need that extra hug or the tea you make them without being asked for one. I think we should be even more proud if it's the men around us starting to talk about their thoughts. I had a friend from high school reach out to me recently and he was just the happiest and funniest guy to be around but he told me that he had struggled with depression for many years. Even though I was sad that I had never picked up on it, I was also incredibly proud of him because we made arrangements to get coffee and just check in on each other. I wish dad had texted me saying "I'm really low today, George, and I don't want to be here anymore". I would have run out of work without hesitation but his mental illness didn't allow him to do that, so I'm choosing to be as strong as I can and as wise as I can with the voice that others can hear when it comes to advocating for mental health.”
“Many friends and families of those who have been bereaved by suicide might not know that the hardest days and weeks are those after the funeral. My message to those who know someone who is going through this stage would be to take that lasagne to your friend or drop in for a tea/coffee four or five months after their loved one passed away. We need to keep supporting each other and it really is the community around us that will help us get through the tough battles.”
“If you had met my dad you would’ve never known about his mental health, he was so good at hiding it. We had the most incredible childhood, and one that my siblings and I are thankful for. We never spent Boxing Day at home because we were packed into the car by 6am with the caravan in tow so we could go camping for a couple of weeks. It was our six week family trip around the south island that I will cherish for a long time. He was a great swimmer and we would be waiting at the surf club late at night to try and spot him walking up the beach with his fins and wave. His surf lifesaving boat that he used to row is hanging from the ceiling of the Piha Surf Life Saving Club and it just means so much more to me now when I look at it. He was just such an active dad with a lot of laughs and jokes to give. The 400 people who turned up to his funeral were considerably shocked that someone with so many laughs could feel so down and decide to leave us, but what I want people to know is that it was the mental illness that took his life – dad wouldn't want to hurt us like that.”
“I was really taken aback by how many people asked us how dad decided to end his life. This was a question that they would ask before asking how we were – which is the one that they should’ve asked. Enquiring after the method shouldn’t be the first thing to come out of your mouth if you are seeing someone who has lost a loved one to suicide. You will never understand the trauma of losing a loved one like this unless you go through it yourself and there are hundreds of brave people in our country fighting with their own post-traumatic stress every day because their loved one took their own life. Be kind, be compassionate, and just hold their hand because often just sitting with them is enough to show you care.”
I believe these are such valid points that need to be spoken about and I am so incredibly proud to be able to help in the small steps to getting it out there, thanks to Voices of Hope. Georgie is truly the most incredible person I have met, and the work she is doing within New Zealand is making such a huge difference.
Georgie’s Dad’s Euology -https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=TGrxD2xuLjs