Stigma on getting help must go

08:40, Feb 24 2013
chris mcpherson
FRIENDS: Jenny Paverd, from left, Erin Payne, Chris McPherson and Claire Bewley.

The day after their flatmate, Chris McPherson, died by suicide, three Christchurch university students agreed that they would always share their feelings openly with each other.

Now, nearly a year after Chris's death, it's that communication, and the support of counsellors, family and university staff, that Claire Bewley, Jenny Paverd and Erin Payne, all 21, say helped them cope with their loss.

The four, all engineering students, met in their first week at the University of Canterbury in 2009 and lived in the same residence hall through that year.

They "clicked straight away", Claire said. The next year, they shifted into an off-campus flat together.

The women said they knew Chris as an outgoing, enthusiastic and bubbly person.

In the weeks before his death, they had noticed that he appeared anxious and depressed, and he mentioned that he had gone to two counselling sessions but had decided to stop.

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But Chris only withdrew from them completely in the few days before his suicide, they said.

When the police called them out of class and told them Chris had died, it was a total shock.

It shows that "you never know what someone's going through", Jenny said.

Each of the women, and many of their wider circle of friends, have attended counselling sessions.

They try to look out for each other and reach out to friends if they're having a bad day.

"Even if they don't come to you, you notice things about people," Claire said.

But even after Chris's death, they have seen friends resist counselling and other offers of help, which they believe is related to the stigma surrounding mental health treatment. It's a view that needs to go, they said.

"It's something that's like cancer. It takes you over," Claire said. "And it can kill you."

People need to understand that there's nothing wrong with asking for help - and friends shouldn't hesitate to help each other, they said.

"I think it's just something that needs to be changed, and it's a society change," Claire said.

"But I think talking about it helps."

The Timaru Herald