Warning: This article deals with sensitive issues around mental health and suicidal thoughts. For 24-hour crisis support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Jackson Saunders sounds like your typical 11-year-old Melbourne boy: he likes playing football, riding his scooter and spends way too much time playing the video game Fortnite.
The eldest of four children, Jackson is an “old soul” and a “deep thinker” who “puts others before himself”, according to his mum Kelly Smorgon.
But before he found a way to make an impact on the world around him – and raise more than $40k for the Polished Man charity – Jackson experienced a darkness no child should have to feel, or parent should have to witness.
Three years ago, Kelly received a call from a teacher at Jackson’s school. The teacher couldn’t figure out why Jackson wasn’t able to focus in class. He wasn’t disruptive, overtired or distracted. Something just wasn’t right.
“We’ve always had a fairly open line of communication with our children so we asked him ‘What’s wrong?'” Kelly tells Mamamia. “We thought perhaps he had learning difficulties. And at that point, I think asking him direct questions gave him an opportunity to say that in fact he’d been planning to commit suicide. He had a date and a method in mind.”
Kelly and her husband Steve knew Jackson had been bullied – he’d often come home with bruises or cuts. As Jackson himself tells us, his own depression came out of trying to “stick up for people that were getting bullied, but that was the thing that made me get bullied”.
But Jackson’s parents had no idea of the extent to which it had escalated.
“Jackson being as sensitive as he is, it’s sometimes hard to know what to take seriously and what not to,” Kelly says. “He would come home often and say he got into an argument or a fight, and often it was because he would jump in to defend someone else or if he saw something that he thought wasn’t right. And I’d hear about that a lot and I’d be proud of him for that because that’s a value that you’d want your children to have, to stand up for others, and not to sit back and watch. But he started becoming the victim and he’d tell me about it.”