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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:

Susan Trotter

Susan’s* son, Rowan,* died by suicide at the age of 33 in 2010.

Susan, a witness before the Commission, said:

This is a difficult story for me to tell. My son had attempted suicide 26 times before he died, but I still always believed he would stay with us. I was totally destroyed when he died.

Rowan was diagnosed with attention deficit syndrome at the age of 5 years and a borderline intellectual disability at the age of 10. His mental health seemed to deteriorate in his late teens, and he attempted suicide for the first time when he was 19. It took some time for him to get follow-up support.

Rowan was in the emergency department for 48 hours before he was discharged into my care. [He] was not able to see a counsellor straight after release from hospital, as there was a waiting list. Around 2 or 3 months after his first suicide attempt Rowan started counselling.

Rowan attempted suicide a further three times between the ages of 19 and 21:

Rowan seemed to become more frustrated each time he attempted suicide. It seemed to me like no one was helping him. Each time the hospitals just released Rowan and told him to keep up his medication and treatment.

In his late 20s Rowan was in a constant cycle of issues, overdoses and recovery.

So for me it was a roller coaster and hospitals after hospitals. I could not believe that after so many suicide attempts there did not seem to be any real help […] Despite all of this, in family meetings and at the hospitals I was told that Rowan was an attention seeker who would not take his life. Rowan would always cry and say things to me like: ‘Why can’t anybody help me and stop this stuff inside my head?’ It broke my heart.

Following a series of distressing events, Rowan overdosed on prescription medications two days before Christmas and was taken to the emergency department.

I begged them to hold on to him until Boxing Day, because that’s when I could come and pick him up. I begged them, ‘Please, hang on to him because he’s not in a good way’. They told me they would.

Rowan was discharged from hospital on Christmas Day and called Susan telling her not to worry about him.

He said, ‘Don’t forget, mum: love you’, and then hung up. About two hours later I started to worry, I had a horrible feeling in my stomach because I hadn’t heard from him.

Susan was called that evening and told that Rowan had died by suicide.

That day absolutely destroyed me and for the rest of my life now all I think of is, why, if, but, if only. And that’s why I run these support groups, to help other parents that go through the same pain and suffering that I feel every day of my life.

Source: Interim Report, November 2019

Note: *Names have been changed to protect privacy.