BRADY Flaus was a deep thinker with a big heart who didn’t need to be asked twice to grab his didgeridoo to jam with a band at a party, or a busker on the street.
But his sweet smile hid a world of pain.
And on July 6, Dan and Jacqui Flaus lost their beloved youngest son – their “Worimi warrior” – when he took his own life.
He was 14.
Weeks before his death, security escorted the Chisholm teen from the Nexus unit at the John Hunter Hospital after his family were told another child would need the bed. The devastated family is sharing his story to campaign for more mental health resources as, despite being suicidal and refusing to leave the house, Brady’s case was not considered “extreme” enough to warrant a home visit from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS).
“He was so severely depressed he would spend all day lying down, wrapped in a blanket,” Mrs Flaus said. “We couldn’t get him to go to any of his appointments towards the end. We even tried to bribe him to go to them.
“We asked CAHMS, ‘Is there any way you can come out to see him at home?’ They said they could only do that for extreme cases.
“How much more extreme does it need to be?”
They said Hunter New England Health was investigating Brady’s case to identify whether procedures and practices could be improved.
Within the health district, more than 1500 lives have been lost to suicide between 2001 and 2016.
People aged 15-to-24 accounted for almost 500 hospitalisations for intentional self-harm within the region in 2016-17. The Herald understands there is about a four-month wait for some youth mental health counselling services in the Hunter.
In the last six months of Brady’s life, the Flaus family locked up anything he could have used to take his life after he made several attempts.
Their watching, and worrying, was 24/7.
“We had gone through the, ‘No, you’re not going anywhere’, stage,” Mrs Flaus said.
“We had been through the, ‘Please, God help us’, stage.
“We had been through the, ‘Ok mate, do what you bloody want’ stage.
“And we were back in the, ‘Mate, it’s 6 o’clock at night, it’s cold, you don’t want to go out now’, stage.
“And he said he did, he said he wanted to go and see his mates.”
Two days before Brady went missing, the almost six foot tall teen was playing the didgeridoo at a NAIDOC Week celebration.
He was smiling. He looked happy.
“He was very good at disguising his pain,” Mr Flaus said. “Even at the hospital, he would tell them what they wanted to hear.”
Mrs Flaus said each time he was assessed after self-harming or an attempted suicide, hospital staff would ask: “Do you want to hurt yourself? Do you want to hurt anyone else?”
“Brady would say no, because he didn’t want to ‘hurt’ himself or anyone else, and they would release him,” Mrs Flaus said. “Eventually on one visit I jumped in at that point and said, ‘Brady, do you want to kill yourself?’ And he said, ‘Every day, Mum’.”
The night Brady went “walkabout”, Mrs Flaus kept ringing his phone.
“It was going straight through to voicemail,” she said. “We went out driving, looking for him. Then I found a note in his bedroom.”
They notified the police, who knocked on the door the next morning to tell them the tragic news. The whole family was sick with grief.
Brady had once been a very happy, confident child, they said. Things began to change when he stood up for a friend who was being bullied at school when he was in Year 6. After that, he became the target.
“Bullying probably started it. At the end, it was a mixture of everything,” Mr Flaus said.
Mrs Flaus said there needed to be more beds. More counsellors. More safe spaces that kids like Brady could go for a chat. More help.
“I want to go into Parliament House and say, ‘Listen, I don’t care what side you’re on – wake up to yourselves, we need another few billion dollars to go somewhere that will actually do something to help,” she said.
Leanne Johnson, general manager of Hunter New England Mental Health Service, was unable to comment on Brady’s specific case.
She said the 12-bed Nexus unit was the only specific child and adolescent mental health facility for young people in the Hunter New England Health District.
In the past five years, the unit had between 310 and 410 admissions per year.
The average length of stay in Nexus was five-to-eight days, and it had an average occupancy rate of 85 per cent.
“There are times where we will be full, and someone will require an admission. Other times there are adequate numbers,” Ms Johnson said.
“The decision around admitting or discharging people should never be based on the beds. If someone requires an admission, they require an admission.
“Clinicians make decisions about admissions in isolation from bed numbers. If a bed wasn’t available in Nexus, we would look for other options, predominantly the paediatric ward.
“The decision to discharge a patient is not taken lightly.”
But Ms Johnson said risk, and circumstances, could change.
“If we discharge someone today, and it is completely appropriate to discharge them, a week or a month later, they could be triggered by something they see and the situation can quickly change for them,” she said.
“We try to help encourage people to be very well-connected post their discharge, with an appropriate referral, and sometimes people are really engaged, and others are more difficult to engage.”
Ms Johnson said the local CAHMS team had the capability to visit people at home.
Concerned families could also call the Mental Health Access Line on 1800 011 511, staffed by experienced mental health clinicians 24 hours, seven days a week.
“It is not a crisis response line. When people call they may be advised to present to the hospital, or they may be referred to a community clinician who will follow up with them within 48 hours, or the next 14 days, depending on the urgency,” she said.
“Sometimes it’s referred to their GP. But if someone was requiring that higher level of care, because the parents were really concerned they were going to act on their suicide ideation, they can present to the ED.
“We are always looking to provide the least restrictive treatment environment available. An inpatient admission isn’t always appropriate. There is a range of community serviced treatments that are available to young people as well.
“Nexus is just one part of the overall system.”
Lifeline general manager Rob Sams said the suicide rate was still “challenging”, particularly locally.
“I think there will always be challenges with health systems, and systems in general,” he said. “But as a community, we need to build our capacity to be more understanding and take the time to be there for each other when something is not right.
“If a child is saying some things that parents are worried about, there is a bunch of training that we run – as well as QPR – that can give them the skills to have the conversations, and listen out for the cues that might help.”
Lifeline offered a face-to-face counselling service at no-charge in Newcastle, Belmont and Maitland for people aged 16 and above.
Mark Dewhurst, of headspace Maitland, said they had seen a broad trend of more demand for their services as more people became aware of them.
“One of the things that is really great is that a lot of young people are aware our service is here now, and they understand we are available for them to go to for support,” Mr Dewhurst said.
“But the downside of that is sometimes demand does outstrip the supply.”
Headspace offers counselling for people aged 12-to-25, although there could be a wait for that service.
“One of the things we try to do at headspace is to safely support people while they wait,” he said.
Maitland headspace will deliver a new youth complex mental health service to meet the needs of young people at risk of severe mental illness in the Upper Hunter and Liverpool Plains.
Psychiatrist and 2010 Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry said there had been a huge rise in presentations for mental illness in emergency departments for those aged 15-to-40.
“In that age group, the most common presentation to an ED is mental health related,” he said. “People are having to get really really sick to present to emergency departments, and they are kicked back out again without really getting the right type of support. It falls back on the families, and the people themselves. It was always the case that 75 per cent of mental health disorders appeared before the age of 25. But the tide is getting stronger.”
The solution was community mental health hubs.
“Headspace ‘plus’ for young people, and a similar concept for older adults,” Professor McGorry said.
For crisis support: Lifeline: 13 11 14 Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
Do you know more? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.