HER home is a shrine to the son she lost, but now Katrina Tsaftaropoloulos is on a mission to save others from depression and suicide. The mother of three is lobbying the state government for mandatory mental health programs in all high schools. “This is important as we are losing our youth to suicide. Six every day, 42 a week. This is a horrible toll on our young,” she said. Mrs Tsaftaropoloulos’ son George committed suicide three years ago aged 27, leaving behind a 15-page farewell that details the depression he had suffered from a young age, depression not even his loving mother knew about. “I didn’t know he suffered depression but he told me (in the suicide note) that it started back in high school and he never gave us the opportunity to help him,” she said.George’s first girlfriend took her own life when he was 19. Towards the end of George’s life, Mrs Tsaftaropoloulos said the warning signs were there but she mistook them for physical illness. “I could tick every box, he had insomnia, he stopped eating, stopped going out, stopped taking care of himself, he cut himself off and stayed in bed for days,” she said. “I thought it was all physical, I didn’t think of mental illness.”
Along with the Black Dog Institute, Mrs Tsaftaropoloulos is now actively going to high schools and giving mental health presentations. “I have reached thousands of kids, and many have put up their hand for help. We have made a difference. But I am only one person. I cannot reach every student in Australia,” Mrs Tsaftaropoloulos said, adding she had started a petition on Change.org to lobby government to make the program mandatory. “Most of these young people will not admit they have a problem or go to seek help. “With a mental health program as part of their curriculum, it gives them the knowledge to help themselves or to help others. By equipping our youth with the tools to cope they might save lives. “We have programs in the schools on drugs and alcohol and violence and drink-driving, but the death toll from suicide is more than all those put together. “We must break the taboo, bring mental health out of the shadows into the light.” Mrs Tsaftaropoloulos said she had the Department of Education’s blessing but it was up to her to approach the schools, many of which did not act until they had suffered a tragedy. “I’ve had to beg them to let me come and do the presentation,” she said. “We need to give kids the knowledge, if they know what to look for they can help their friends. There is such a stigma and I’m sure that’s why my son was afraid to say anything to us, he was supposed to be the strong male, he was the captain of the soccer team, the alpha male. “He never wanted to show weakness.”
This article first appeared The Daily Telegraph, 8 March 2015.