Finding help, hope and new ties to bind a family

Finding help, hope and new ties to bind a family


Life & Style
For Harry Singh, recovery from depression has involved re-opening the lines of communication with family - lines that are now strong.

For Harry Singh, recovery from depression has involved re-opening the lines of communication with family - lines that are now strong.

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AGED 19 and living by himself for the first time, Harry Singh became trapped in a cycle of depression and obsessive study.

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HARRY Singh first realised he was a bit off kilter during his gap year in England.

Originally from Tamworth, Harry had just finished boarding school in Sydney where he juggled study, sport and mates with his commitments as head boarder and cadet company commander.

He’d left Australia for a year of fun and adventure but was troubled by a niggling feeling something wasn’t quite right.

“Although I was doing all these great things, most of the time I had this awareness that I wasn’t enjoying things the way I should,” he said.

Feeling disconnected from the world, Harry distanced himself from his friends so they wouldn’t pick up on the way he was feeling.

The problems worsened when he returned to Australia to study arts and commerce in Sydney.

Living on his own for the first time, Harry found himself trapped in a cycle of depression and obsessive study.

Having watched his father Bryan and sister Taylor both struggle with depression, Harry was able to recognise something was wrong and went to see a psychiatrist.

He was diagnosed with melancholic depression, a condition which leaves the sufferer unable to experience any positive emotion.

At its worst, the darkness gripping Harry was all consuming.

“Everything was doom and gloom,” he said.

“You go around feeling like you should be feeling pleasure, some kind of happiness but it just never arises.

“To an extent you feel helpless; you desperately want to feel some kind of positive emotion.”

Sleeping just two hours a night and lacking the motivation to leave his unit to socialise or exercise, Harry had little appetite and would often forget to eat.

The only thing sustaining him was study.

“I rationalised that I was a burden on everyone, so the only thing I could do to be helpful was to do well at university and do something good for the world,” he said.

“I thought (study) was the only thing I had.”

The tipping point came on Father’s Day in 2011 when Bryan remarked to the then 19- year-old Harry there was more to life than study and books.

“That caused a very adverse reaction in me because at the time, that was what my whole psyche was about,” Harry said.

Unable to be around his family, Harry went back to his unit and was overtaken by dark thoughts.

“That night, I couldn’t work out anything to live for,” he said.

“I just wanted to stop being a burden on everyone.

“I didn’t want anyone to have to worry about what I was doing anymore.

“I thought it would be better if I was no longer around.”

He sent Facebook messages to his friends telling them not to worry about him and thanking them for their friendship.

Fortuitously, a friend in Tamworth read his message and sensing something was wrong, asked a mutual friend in Sydney to check in on Harry.

Luckily, the friend reached him in time.

Following his suicide attempt, Harry was admitted to a private psychiatric clinic in Sydney where he was put on a new routine of medication and taught coping strategies to help him deal with his depression.

It’s been a long road to recovery – not just for Harry but for the whole Singh family.

After spending three weeks at the clinic in Sydney, Harry went with his parents back to Tamworth to recover and reopen lines of communication that had closed during his sickness.

“At first it was really difficult to talk to my parents,” Harry said.

“Dad kept getting frustrated that I couldn’t be happy; he just kept trying to make a smile happen.

“But it just kept getting a bit easier, a bit easier to the point where now (our relationship) is pretty amazing.”

For all the despair surrounding Harry’s sickness and suicide attempt, Bryan said the saga had the positive effect of bringing the family closer together.

“He talks to us a lot more now,” he said.

“If he gets stressed about something, he’ll ring us and let us know.”

Bryan said medication played a key role in Harry’s recovery and ongoing mental wellbeing.

“If someone was diabetic and they weren’t taking their medication, you’d go crook on them,” he said.

“If someone had high blood pressure and they didn’t take their cholesterol medication, you’d go crook on them.

“But as soon as someone starts to take medication for mental health, people ask ‘when can you get off it?’.

“I would much rather Harry being on his medication and seeing a psychiatrist than having him off his medication but being desperately sad.”

Two years on from that night, Harry is doing a lot better.

On track with medication, eating well and exercising regularly, he now has two special girls in his life – his girlfriend Rachel and puppy Betty – and has rediscovered how to be happy.

“There’s a lot of joy in my life,” Harry said.

“I’m still doing well at university, I’ve become involved with some of my interests outside of just study, I became involved with Australian politics, I spend time catching up with friends.”

He said he was “probably one of few Australians to have fun during the election campaign”, helping to campaign for Liberal candidates in certain Sydney seats.

Despite his progress, Harry acknowledges he may never be completely rid of his depression.

“I’m moving on but not forgetting it’s an uphill battle,” he said.

“(Depression) probably will always be a part of my life.

“But that doesn’t really scare me anymore because I know what I have to do and I know I can deal with it.”

Support is available for those who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800.

This article was first published in The Land's 2013 Glove Box Guide to Mental Health. To read more from the guide, click here.

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