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A grey day in Sydney turned a shade darker on Saturday with the announcement that former model, TV personality and socialite Charlotte Dawson was found dead at her home.
The police statement that there were no suspicious circumstances made the potentially unspoken so much more powerful. The initial understanding that we online dwellers have is that there is the possibility Ms Dawson took her own life. No one has been game enough to say it, and I am not saying it even now, but with every tribute that pops up is the inference of this being suicide. Close friends are offering caring, thoughtful eulogies, but still dare not say the word.
It’s highly possible that life simply became too unbearable for Charlotte Dawson.
Perhaps this is part of the problem. We do not like to talk of ugly things. We do not wish to imagine the place where someone feels life is too horrific to continue with its demands. These days we are all well-educated on the signs of mental health problems. We’ve seen all the videos and we’ve read the pamphlets. But rarely are we told what to do next.
We have “RUOK day” which implores people to ask others if they are ok. But then what? Hand them a glossy brochure? Encourage them to see their GP? Finish our cup of tea and say best be going and chin up?
Where exactly is this help that we are supposed to retrieve?
And if Charlotte Dawson could not access it, or find treatment that worked, how vulnerable are the rest of us?
As the mental health crisis grows, we need to actually do something in this country, and referring our friends and family to overburdened, scarcely-efficient systems is potentially setting them up for failure and disappointment. Bad treatment is much worse than no treatment, just like any other health problem.
A variety of factors were ostensibly exerting their pressures on Charlotte Dawson in the lead up to her death, many of them violating, personally and professionally.
In January she returned from a trip to Bali to find her apartment had been extensively damaged during a party held by her house-sitter. At the time of her death it was up for sale and it was worrying her.
She had long battled the body image and acceptance issues that effect so many models. A friend of mine emailed me saying, “So being thin and blonde doesn’t make you happy?”
No. Clearly what we are sold by the truckload – that being dazzlingly beautiful is a destination equal to “happily ever after” – is snake oil just the same.
Her marriage to Olympic swimmer Scott Miller ended after two years in 2001. Miller has since been involved in ongoing criminal activity that includes drugs and weapons charges.
Disturbingly, just seven days ago, in an interview with 60 minutes Dawson was quoted as saying, ”Of course I care that he gets better, he’s the man I married, a lot of me still loves him and of course I want him to have a fruitful life.
”He’ll be the only man I’ll ever marry and it’s broken my heart to see him go through such hardship.”
Dawson was reported to have found the content of the interview daunting and feared that it would trigger depressive moments. Being in the public eye involuntarily can only be a nightmare. Having your marriage analysed by Channel 9’s ticking clock kings in front of the nation is the salt greedily poured into re-opened wounds. For anyone feeling exposed and that the world is judging them, it would be publicity of the worst kind.
But it was her very public self-reported defeat against internet trolls that seemed to harm her most. In 2012 Dawson was the object of a vicious hate campaign through Twitter and various social media, resulting in a brief hospital admission. She later spoke publicly about her mental illness and her determination to overcome it.
We are aware of the ongoing problems cyberbullying causes young people. Adolescents have always been agonisingly cruel to each other, and the internet is almost the perfect jungle for those who seek to taunt and tease others. Countless children have now taken their lives when the pressure has become overwhelming, and we lament this new form of torture over which we seem to have such little control.
Yet, while we strive to boost our kids’ resilience to such bullying, we assume that adults will be able to manage it. We assume that by the age of 47 they have developed the skills and thick skin to brush off anonymous hecklers. We know that bullies are cowards and online bullies have all the bravado of boys yelling from cars, who, once singled out, are frightened toothless dogs.
Women in their 40s are supposed to be in their prime. We know that young people spontaneously end their lives because they can’t conceive that today is not forever. We know that there are high rates of suicide in the elderly as they struggle to maintain independence, health, and meaning.
But gorgeous TV celebrities who are 47 are not supposed to die this way.
The label on the snake oil bottle said so.
Despair is not supposed to triumph over hope. That is the common thread when it comes to suicide. To those who attempt and complete the act of killing themselves, there was no light at the end of the tunnel for as far as the eye could see.
It is difficult for us to comprehend that what we are told is success can easily mutate into private horror.
And that bullying hurts grown ups too.
Although, Dawson had repeated her quest to stay strong, three weeks ago, there were signs that she was still struggling. On January 31 she tweeted a question that leaves us all uneasy at our keyboards –
Meanwhile if, let’s say over the past week somebody had killed themselves as this troll had encouraged would @twitter be responsible?
— Charlotte Dawson (@MsCharlotteD) January 31, 2014
This question is becoming increasingly, desperately relevant. We need to be asking it, and many others like it about online mental health a lot, lot sooner. Now in fact. Yesterday even.
We need to start talking honestly with each other, even if it’s super hard to see a solution.
And more than talking, we need to act.
We need to be there for each other and actually supporting one another with the same vigour and gusto that the trolls seem to have in abundance.