'If only we had known'

In the months since Marco Zeelie, 20, committed suicide, his parents, Kierie and Zelda Zeelie, have searched for answers about what could have been done to save him.

Kierie, 49, and Zelda, 46, believe it's possible that, had they or others around Marco had more information about the signs of depression, they might have known to seek help for their son.

"It's hard to say afterwards that it would have definitely made a difference," Zelda said. "But we like to believe that ... if we knew, that we could have helped him."

Marco died on December 1, one day before his parents returned to Timaru from a visit to their native South Africa.

He'd been living with them for nearly a year, after suffering an injury that led to his medical discharge from the New Zealand Army.

Marco enlisted in the army in 2010, realising a dream he'd held throughout high school, Zelda said. But, near the end of his training, he'd passed out while marching in hot weather and hit his head, resulting in a concussion.

After that he suffered recurring headaches, and later passed out again on another march.

The Zeelies point to the combination of all these things – after effects and lasting pain from the head injury, the loss of his job and his plans for the future – as factors they now believe contributed to his fatal depression.

But at the time, all they knew was that his personality had changed, and he'd withdrawn from them.

"Retrospect is a perfect science, and we see all those signs now," Kierie said. "But at the time we didn't know."

Marco had told them he "needed space" while he sorted out his plans, and they took him at his word.

The night before he died, Marco told his sister, Nadia Scott, that he'd thought about killing himself. It was the first time he'd ever said such a thing to her, Nadia said.

"He said he'd thought about it, but he wasn't going to do it – that he was over it," she said.

After his death, the Zeelies learned he had told some of his friends the same thing.

"They thought they'd talked him out of it, or that he wasn't thinking about it any more," Kierie said.

"They were convinced that he was fine," Zelda said. "He convinced them."

Now when they look back on the preceding months, they see evidence of serious depression in Marco's behaviour, Kierie said. But no one realised how much he was struggling until it was too late.

"We find John Kirwan sitting on television, which is great – an ex-All Black saying depression is fine," Kierie said. "But how do I identify it? People need to be educated. They don't know."

In an emergency, don't wait -- phone TACT (psychiatric helpline) on 0800 277 997 or police on 111.

The Timaru Herald