A family's pain: 'We're not valuing good mental health like we should'

This photo of Liam Booth was one of his mother Debbie's favourite images of him.
SUPPLIED

This photo of Liam Booth was one of his mother Debbie's favourite images of him.

The pain is raw in Geoff Booth's voice and the tears flow easily as he speaks about his son, Liam. 

He holds a bag of his son's clothes that he was given by police.

"It still smells like him."

Liam Booth's father, Geoff, hopes that by sharing the family's story, they can prevent another family going through the ...
MATTHEW SALMONS/STUFF

Liam Booth's father, Geoff, hopes that by sharing the family's story, they can prevent another family going through the same pain.

Liam, a 21-year-old Christchurch temp worker with a passion for mixing music, died by suspected suicide this month, leaving his family devastated.

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"He was a character. He had a sense of humour but was very sensitive," Geoff said.

"He was into mixing music, a DJ sort of thing. He was really good at it, loved it. He would go and do sets at clubs in town."

Geoff – along with Liam's brothers, Connor and Finn, and step-mum Carolyn Jones – were at home again in Greendale, in the Selwyn district, after the worst week in the family's life.

Liam's funeral finished mere hours before the family met with Stuff, but they were adamant his story be told for the start of Mental Health Awareness Week.

Liam had had his issues, Geoff said. He had previously attempted suicide in September but emergency services intervened in time to save him.

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After Liam was held for a time, Geoff said he was told by the mental health service that they did not consider Liam a risk to himself.

"I said 'he's only got to get to get it right once, just once, and there's no coming back'. Where are we today?"

Although Geoff pleaded with health workers to keep Liam, he was told he had been sent home in a taxi before they had called.

"There were opportunities for Liam to get the right help, but the cries for help all seemed to fall on deaf ears," Geoff said.

He said Liam had been involved with the mental health system until the Friday before his death.

"They discharged him from Hillmorton [Hospital on October 6]. They believed he was on the right path and the file for him was closed."

A Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) spokeswoman said the DHB extended its sympathies to the Booth family in the wake of their tragic loss. She said in the event of a sudden death, a "formal review of care is undertaken by mental health services and the coroner".

The CDHB would not provide further comment on the case as they preferred to deal directly with the family if they had concerns.

Geoff saw his son for the last time the next day in Sumner. They shared some laughs and talked of Liam's plans to get ready for work. Hearing Liam's plans for mundane things gave him hope, he said.

"He had a cheeky smile, he waved at me, then he went that way and I went the other. That was the last time I saw him alive."

Liam's body was found on Monday.

Geoff said the family hoped that by sharing their story, it would help the fight against the plague of suicide.

"If I could avoid one family going through what we've gone through, it's a start and that's what it comes down to."

Geoff said he spoke to Liam's friends at the funeral as he wanted them to take something away from the day.

"You need to watch each other and look after each other. I don't want to attend one of your funerals and see your family go through what our family's going though.

"Watch your friends; if any of them withdraw, there's some reason. Talk to them, understand, bring them back in."

There were no instructions on what to do in the event of suicide and people avoided the topic instead of tackling the issue, Geoff said.

"We want support at the top of the cliff, not to pick up the pieces at the bottom."

Carolyn said although society was getting better at dealing with the issue, the "pull yourself together attitude" still existed.

She said people treated mental health issues differently to other health issues, but they should be approached in the same way. Something was broken and needed to be fixed.

"We're not valuing good mental health like we should. We're only picking at the surface."

Suicide is a national problem, with the number of people taking their own lives on the rise.

Canterbury's suicide rate is higher than the national average, but lower than some other regions, including the West Coast, Wairarapa and Northland.

Suicide attempts have increased at a higher rate in the region compared to national levels though, with a 60 per cent increase over the last five years compared to a 52 per cent increase nationwide.

Provisional statistics released earlier this month found 606 Kiwis died by suicide in the 2016-17 year – up from 579 the previous year.

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WHERE TO GET HELP

Lifeline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 354

Depression Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 111 757

Healthline (open 24/7) - 0800 611 116

Samaritans (open 24/7) - 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Youthline (open 24/7) - 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email talk@youthline.co.nz

0800 WHATSUP children's helpline - phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day.

Kidsline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.

Your local Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)

Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.

For further information, contact the Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812).

 - Stuff

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