'Don't ask me how he did it': Kiwi wife's plea after husband's suicide

He appeared to be a regular, happy Kiwi bloke but after an eight-year battle with mental health issues, "super active" father-of-three Sydney Harris died by suicide in October. This three-part series looks at his life, the mental health system and what can be learned from his death.

This is the third part of the series. Read part one and part two.

"How did he do it?"

It's a question Georgia Harris and mother Lynda have heard countless times in the weeks following the suicide of their biggest advocate, Sydney Harris.

"Certainly the questions that I've been asked since Syd passed away couldn't be more insensitive," Lynda told Newshub.

"I don't want to be sharing any of that but, when you’re put on the spot by someone, it's really difficult to catch your breath and come out with an answer that's not rude or blunt - but I do feel like being blunt."

Syd's wife Lynda and daughter Georgia have been asked countless times how their loved one took his life, but say it's so irrelevant and insensitive.
Syd's wife Lynda and daughter Georgia have been asked countless times how their loved one took his life, but say it's so irrelevant and insensitive. Photo credit: Supplied / Harris family.

For her, their three children and anyone who loved him, Syd died of suicide.

"I don't believe he committed suicide - he didn't commit a crime, suicide killed him. I believe mental health killed him."

The father-of-three died in October, losing a battle with depression. He struggled to find lasting remedies and for the eight years leading up to his death, fought to manage good long term mental health.

The method of which he took is "irrelevant" to others and triggers Lynda to relive the trauma associated with his loss.

Sharing how he did it doesn't change the reality that he is gone, and Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson says it can be a "very traumatising, painful and intrusive question to ask families and loved ones".

It should never be asked, he says, because it's also dangerous.

Every year, 150,000 New Zealanders will seriously consider suicide. Discussing methods can lead others to take their own life through that means.

"People who aren't vulnerable right now might hear about that method now and remember it later, when they're going through a tough time and feeling suicidal," he said.

"We've seen this happen repeatedly, and it's just not worth the risk. You can talk about suicide without discussing method."

Syd is remembered as a family man, who took his children holidays every summer and set them up to achieve anything they set their minds to.
Syd is remembered as a family man, who took his children holidays every summer and set them up to achieve anything they set their minds to. Photo credit: Supplied / Harris family.
The family left behind. Georgia (far right) pictured with her two siblings and mum Lynda (middle left).
The family left behind. Georgia (far right) pictured with her two siblings and mum Lynda (middle left). Photo credit: Supplied / Harris family.

As Lynda supported Syd over the years, she formed a deeper understanding of the importance of listening and being more intuitive to someone struggling. 

Syd became insular and he was unwilling to let the the people closest to him know about his struggles.

The thought of others knowing made led to shame and guilt and made him feel even more vulnerable, which is why, she says, it is important for friends to reach out and check in with mates who have gone 'off the radar'.  

She says as a society, we need to stop asking questions.

If someone is down or not taking part in a social scene they were in, then it's vital to take actions to check on them and let them know they are in our thoughts.

Mr Robinson reiterated this understanding, explaining it's really important not to wait for someone to ask for help.

"Depression and other kinds of mental distress can be incredibly lonely experiences. Often people feel worthless and unable to reach out," he said.

Lynda realised that asking open-ended questions and listening was vital to engaging in conversation with him. It also encouraged his motivation to fight and stay connected to those close to him. 

It's really important, she says, that conversations with people who may be vulnerable aren't judgemental or dismissive of how they might be feeling.

It's not just a reliance on the mental health system to catch people who are struggling either - mental health is something that outsiders need to support.

Georgia is now passionately trying to spur change within the current state of mental health system, advocating for more access to assistance, openness about expressing challenges, and acceptance of people who are fighting their own battles.

She was about 11 years old when she noticed her dad's moods changing, but was unable to grasp what was going on.

"I think it was really hard because it wasn't spoken about openly in the way I guess that way as kids could understand what your parent is going through," she said.

The family (pictured painting his coffin) hope that by speaking out about losing Syd they can help other people.
The family (pictured painting his coffin) hope that by speaking out about losing Syd they can help other people. Photo credit: Supplied / Harris family.

During her eulogy at her dad's funeral, Georgia pleaded with the family and friends to stop being "so naive" about mental health.

"Stop throwing it under the carpet, stop talking about it in whispers - and instead, if you're having a shit day, scream it from the rooftops.

"If you're a parent and you're feeling a bit down, tell your kids that you're a bit down, that mummy or daddy need some extra cuddles.

"I wish dad had text me saying 'I'm really low today Georg, and I don't want to be here anymore' - I would have ran out of work in a heartbeat."

The 23-year-old said that mental wellbeing should be the priority to get right, above a beautiful home, fancy car, expensive wardrobe or extravagant holidays.

She encourages others to be honest, start asking questions, give more hugs and to stand up for friends, family, kids and neighbours.

By teaching young people about depression and what it looks like early on, she believes it could save a life later on if they can recognise it within themselves or others.

"Be the change for mental health in this country and just be brave to talk about it," she said.

Newshub.

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