Alex Eales.
Alex Eales. Contributed

Dad's heartbreaking loss of son, 19, to suicide

DURING a Wallabies game Damian Eales would often text his son.

It would normally go something like: "Go Australia", or "F- the Kiwis".

But on the night of August 6, 2011, for whatever reason, he didn't.

That night, his 19-year-old son committed suicide.

It's something that Mackay man, and the now-convener of Support after Suicide, Damian Eales has played over and over in his mind.

The past six years haven't got any easier for Damian and his wife Lois, with the pain just as strong as the day it happened, but perhaps not as frequent.

Damian has however, committed himself to working in the field of suicide prevention in a bid to stop other parents going through what he did.

Alex Eales was a "happy-go-lucky boy" with no signs of depression or mental health - his death taking those closest to him by surprise. Alex was in Townsville completing a block of TAFE for his air-conditioning, refrigeration mechanic apprenticeship and was staying at a caravan park with another apprentice from Mackay.

Damian was alone the night of the game; Lois, Alex's mum, was in Hobart with her father and their two daughters in Cairns and the Gold Coast..

On Sunday, Damian was visited by two police officers - who broke the news, which he had to circulate around to the family.

"Numb. Just disbelief. The world stopped. I didn't get much sleep that night," he recalls. "The first 24 hours were just a blur when my wife and I went to Townsville, we went straight up to the hospital.

"We wanted to see him. Of course the coroner was involved and they said you can see him but you can't go near him. You try telling that to a mother."

It wasn't until the following day the question why.

"It's a question I don't even ask any more. I'd never get the answer," he said.

Before leaving Townsville to return home to Mackay the Eales family made the decision to not take the journey alone and instead they would seek help.

They started seeing a psychologist and they have been seeing one ever since.

For Lois, her son's death has left her traumatised.

"Some people can get on with their life," Damian said. "Others it's just destroyed, and she's been destroyed. Her heart is broken.

"She can be fine one day and then the next day she can't... "

The worst thing you can do, is push the pain back, he said.

"If I want to cry, I cry. Because holding it in is the wrong thing to do. It happened, it f-ing hurts, it will hurt for the rest of my life. I deal with it and then move on with the rest of the day."

Damian is also part of the Mackay Regional Suicide Prevention Network.

After the death of his son, he found people just didn't always know what to say. Those with a lived experience were often best placed to help.

And so once a month he attends a group called Support after Suicide which is facilitated by those who have lost a loved one to suicide.

This year a community action plan to tackle suicide was implemented and services such as Head Space, Lifeline and Grape Vine continue to help people suffering from depression.

But Damian said more help was always needed.

He suggested the mental heath service at the Mackay Health Service was "overwhelmed".

There was a lack of psychologists in the regions too, Damian said.

He said health services in the major cities certainly had better services and he believed the State Government should be investing further into the Mackay Health Service.

Another issue he would like to see addressed is improving facilities for children and adolescents suffering from mental health issues.

"I'd like to see mental health beds in the adolescent unit," he said.

He also called on the government to fund more SAFEtalk programs which prepares people to become a suicide-alert helper.

Being able to talk to someone can make all the difference.

"Getting enough young people to be confident enough to have a conversation with their mates - that's going to have a big affect," he said. The government was contacted for comment.

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