Mum wants Ed's tale to help others

Suicide is still a taboo subject, but Lydia Nettlefold is doing her best to change that. CLAIRE VAN RYN reports.

SUICIDE: THE STATISTICS

•It is estimated that 75 Tasmanians took their own lives last year.

•ABS figures put the Australian suicide toll at 2191 (2008), or 1.5 per cent of all deaths registered.

•Tasmania has the second-highest suicide rate, after the Northern Territory, at 15.6 per 100,000 people.

•Men aged 40-44 and women aged 50-54 had the highest rate of suicides.

•Four out of five people who take their lives are men.

•Suicide rates in Australia peaked in 1963 at 17.3 per 100,000. The rate declined (11.3) in 1984 and climbed again in 1997 (14.6). Rates have remained lower since that year, sitting at 10.2 per 100,000 in 2008.

LYDIA Nettlefold holds eye contact when she speaks of the death of her 21-year-old son Ed.

Unflinchingly, she recalls the night he took his own life after a happy family dinner celebrating his birthday on January 13 last year. Her eyes flood, but her voice carries on without falter.

She has to keep telling the story, she says, so that Ed's death was not in vain.

When Ms Nettlefold found him the day after his birthday, her heart literally stopped. To her, it felt like she was having a massive heart attack, but she was experiencing broken heart syndrome - caused by a sudden rush of adrenalin to the body that paralyses the heart muscle.

In hospital, no one offered her counselling.

Already her son's suicide was becoming a taboo.

With the help of a tight circle of friends and family, the mother of five came through the worst of her grief.

It is still "like a nightmare that doesn't end", but through her experience she has found the voice and energy to help young people find a reason to live.

Soon after Ed's death she established the Nettlefold Foundation to give young people a life-changing experience, or to support them through depression and low times.

She also started clothing brand Ed's Threds as a mantle for youth suicide awareness, has spoken at public events and to the media and even opened her home to young people struggling to find a reason to live.

People call her courageous, but she shrugs off the word like a wet raincoat.

"I was always scared that something like this was going to happen, and when it did happen I just made up my mind that I really wanted to help people," she said.

"I think it's really important to be able to talk about it so that other people know that they're allowed to."

The open fire in her cosy Hadspen cottage crackles.

Ed Bonnin was something of a stunt bike legend in Tasmania. He loved the sport and travelled the world for competitions.

Ms Nettlefold likened him to the Pied Piper for his following of kids whom he mentored, which probably accounted for the huge turnout at his funeral of about 1500 people.

To describe the personality of her son, she points to a vibrant six-foot painting by Archibald finalist Richard Onn.

It represents him well, most of the imagery being taken from Ed's own sketchbooks and tattoos.

Like the man, the painting is dark and light, topsy-turvy with turmoil.

To most, Ed was a fun-loving guy who lived for the moment, but close friends and family know that he fell into periods of depression and suffered wild mood swings that made him difficult to live with.

Ms Nettlefold now believes her son was bipolar, based on conversations with professionals, despite him being assessed before his death.

With her son's death fresh on her heart, she would like to see more discussions about suicide prevention in Tasmania and more done to lift the associated stigma.

"There are a lot of people that really don't understand ... they're frightened of facing it or talking about it," she said.

The stigma of suicide cuts as deep as the way it is spoken of.

"I actually hate it when people say `commit suicide' ... it sounds like a crime.

"Once, 100 years ago, if you took your own life you couldn't even be buried in consecrated ground. It was a crime to do it, like murdering yourself.

"We've moved on from that. I always say that Ed took his own life. He didn't commit a crime, it was what he chose to do."

By increments Ms Nettlefold hopes to cultivate a greater awareness of the issues that young people face, through events like yesterday's ride day at Royal Park.

So other parents don't have to bear the horror of outliving their child.

For help with depression, visit www.beyondblue.org.au or phone 1300224636.

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