The one thing missing from our schools.

A mother’s desperate plea.

Warning: This post deals with suicide and may be distressing for some readers.

Most parents would admit that they sometimes forget to check in with their kids. Each week is a mad rush of activities and often we forget to sit down with our children, one-on-one and ask, “Are you okay?”.

By the time mental health issues are picked up in children, it can be too late.

Katrina Tsaftaropoloulos lost her son to suicide. George, 27, took his own life. This was a huge shock to Katrina, 42, who had no idea her son was suffering so much.

The 15-page letter explained that he had been dealing with depression from a young age. She told The Daily Telegraph, “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.”

Katrina Tsaftaropoloulos had no idea her son George had been suffering from depression for most of his life.

Now the distraught mum is lobbying the government for mandatory mental health programs in all high schools, to ensure our children have the opportunity to deal with issues such as depression before it is too late.

In fact, we need to go much further than that.

We need to not only ensure there is a formal mental health program in high schools, but start much younger.

The sad reality is that many children suffer from mental health problems from a young age and unless we, and all those involved in their care, regularly check in with them before they start to act up or act out, it can leave them without the ability to help themselves.

Looking back, Katrina says the signs of depression were there in her son George. She mistook his condition for physical illness. Adding to his depression was the suicide of his girlfriend when she was just 19. She regularly gives talks in high schools in conjunction with the Black Dog Institute, discussing her son's behaviour before that fateful day.


She says he wasn't eating or sleeping, he stayed indoors and made no effort to look after himself. Thousands of children have reached out to her for help and she wants all children suffering from depression like George to have access to the most excellent care possible.

A huge obstacle she has faced is breaking the taboo of discussing mental illness with children. She's had to plead with schools to allow her to talk about her son, to share her experiences and reach out to other young people who need help. She told the Daily Telegraph, "We have programs in schools on drugs and alcohol and violence and drink-­driving, but the death toll from suicide is more than all those put together".

Katrina now feels that very taboo is the reason her son didn't reach out to her or to anyone for help.

Currently mental health services are available through schools on a case-by-case basis and often not until a child is exhibiting clear signs that they need help. By then, it's much harder to assist them. If we openly discuss mental health from primary school and all the way through high schools, we can ensure our children know how to reach out and seek help, before more tragedies occur.

If you suffer from depression or know someone who does, contact the Black Dog Institute or the Kid's Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

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