Mental Health Week: How I lost my friend to suicide

It was a beautiful Friday morning. I woke up to the sun beaming into my home and rushed for the bathroom. At the kitchen door, I met my parents who came all the way from Vietnam to visit me just a few days prior. We did our routinely hugs before embarking on a family road trip to the Great Ocean Road later that day.

We had an amazing day admiring the beach, the sun and a random flower farm we saw along the way. We ate the food we had prepared, joked around and took heaps of family photos. It was a lovely day, I simply thought, before closing my eyes to sleep at 11.00pm.

Little did I know, it was at this time that my friend took her last breath on another bed 6,000km away.

I lost my friend to suicide.

My beautiful, loving friend had suffered depression for a long time before then but it bugged me that I never saw the signs.

We were mates back in Vietnam. She was two years my senior, caring, kind and smart. We were not particularly close, but had some frequent talks every now and then. We almost made up a perfect team for an English Spelling Contest. And together, we went on the kind of trips you only could have at a young age with our fellow uni friends.

We also had some real conversations in our empty uni hall, sharing our plans and thoughts for the future. We did so while gazing at the sky and realised we would not be sharing the same one that following year. I was flying to Melbourne and later that July she would be flying to Finland.

Unfortunately, she did not make it to Finland. Nor would she celebrate her 23rd birthday.

I learned about her passing on Facebook. I stayed awake, eyes wide open, speechless and confused until 4.00am on Saturday morning when more news came. I kept scrolling though all the beautiful words that flooded her Facebook wall.

I stared at the word “Remembering” which soon appeared above her Facebook name.

I thought about my time away from her and couldn’t help but feel I could’ve done more. Even if I couldn’t change her mind, I still beg for a chance to go back — to talk to her, offer a hand, make her giggle, and help weather the storm growing inside her. I would do anything in the world to have my dear friend back.

My friend’s last public message was a long status, dedicated to “the ones she loved”. She told us to be kind and to be ourselves. She told us not to forget ourselves and all the joy that life could bring. She told us to hold on firmly to the ones that mean the most to us and to chase our dreams.

“I don’t know how the stars look like, but I hope it’s close enough for people to think of me when they look up to the sky,” she wrote.

Those were her last words, and they still haunt me to this day.

The thing about my friend’s passing that took everyone aback though was how she appeared completely ‘normal’ and ’emotionally stable’.

She looked strong, optimistic and fearless. She was devoted, inspiring and warm. She was the one that always said the kindest words about others. She constantly involved herself in multiple workshops, life skill courses and social projects. On Facebook, she was tagged in numerous group travel photos in which she always kept that genuine smile.

And now that she was gone, her Facebook has been tagged with questions. “Why?” “How?” People didn’t see this coming.

In many ways, her passing reminded me of Chester Bennington’s own death, also in July this year. The Linkin Park singer passed away the same day his band released a new music video.

The most disturbing thing to emerge was that no one saw it coming, not even his family. Chester’s widow, Talinda Bennington, uploaded family footage “36 hours before his death” illustrating how “depression doesn’t have a face or mood”.

And so I realised that we all needed to do more than just to see.

My friend forever missed her 23rd birthday, but I believe her decision has also encouraged many people to hold on to their next. And while my friends and I were more confused, hurt and fragile than ever, in that moment we also decided to stay even closer together.

On that night, a friend who brought me the tragic news suddenly told me to call on him whenever I needed. He told me I did not have to go through it all alone. I was completely surprised yet indeed touched and wholeheartedly grateful for what he said.

I then thought about my other precious friends, and began to reach out to as many of them as possible. I mentioned my friend’s death and depression. I told them to seek help, to speak up and find all best possible ways to feel better.

I must have scared a few by sounding so serious out of the blue. Yet it also scared me as to how many of my friends actually got back to me and confessed their own suicidal thoughts.

It was alarming to say the least yet also rewarding in its own way. I learned so much more about my friends and offered my help if they ever needed it.

And in the end, I guess we all need each other anyway. The world has been shaped in such a way that makes us feel we are all by ourselves in our journey. But there is a reason that there are 7 billion of us in the world, instead of just one.

We were all born to bond. And we all owe each other time.

Meld wishes to build a culture where mental health issues can be freely discussed and encourage all international students to seek assistance and advice, professional or personal, if they are experiencing difficulties that may be affecting their mental health. 

Students who are affected by mental health issues or those who know someone who is can seek help through hotlines such as Lifeline at 13 11 14beyondblue at 1300 22 4636, and Headspace at 1800 650 980.

For LGBTQ individuals who have specific needs, contact QLife at 1800 184 527.

Students may also seek help from in-house university counsellors or helplines.

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