Depression: you can't pull yourself together, but story needn't end there

For Greg … Sharon McGuinness's book will help others.
For Greg … Sharon McGuinness's book will help others.

SHARON McGUINNESS is a librarian who has read to young children her whole life. Yet there's one children's picture book that she hasn't yet managed to read to the students at the Wollongong primary school where she works as the teacher librarian.

Coming Home is the story she wrote during her late husband's struggle with depression. It starts with black and white illustrations of weeds, reflecting the depression suffered by the dad in the book, and closes with bright and colourful flowers, symbolising a recovery.

In real life, the story ended in suicide, the cause of six deaths a day in Australia. Mr McGuinness took his life in 2010. He was 48.

''I'd written the book before Greg died so the ending was the one I thought we'd have because it was what we'd experienced before,'' Mrs McGuinness said.

She said the book reflected the emotions and confusion experienced by children when their parents ''disappear into the shadows of their black dog''.

The librarian of nearly 30 years insisted on realistic illustrations and used simple language, often direct quotes from family discussions at the time.

Greg McGuinness had always suffered from depression, mostly ''little bumps'' which were manageable. He got much worse in 2006 when he was diagnosed with bipolar 2. For the first time, he admitted he felt suicidal.

Over the next few years, Mr McGuinness joked about the ''revolving door'' at the Sydney clinic, where he regularly admitted himself.

Mrs McGuinness said her husband hid his illness from outsiders, continuing with activities such as volunteering with his son's rugby league team. ''This was a man who always got out of bed, he always went to work, though he cut back his hours later,'' she said.

To those outside his family, he would seem fine, something that's reflected in the book.

'People visit, Dad talks and even jokes, but once they've left he seems to disappear again,'' says the girl in the book.

Mr McGuinness did everything he could to control his depression.

''In the end he overexercised because he was looking for that high which he never got, he would swim, he would run, he would ride his bike, would play tennis, but nothing would help.''

Mr McGuinness knew his wife wrote, but he didn't know she was writing about his depression and its impact on their son and daughter.

Since the publication of the book, Mrs McGuinness has received many emails from families where a parent is suffering from depression. She thinks Greg would have liked that.

All proceeds from the sales of Coming Home, which was launched on Sunday at the Sutherland Shire Writers Festival, will be donated to the Black Dog Institute.

* Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling Lifeline 131 114, Mensline 1300 789 978, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.

This story Depression: you can't pull yourself together, but story needn't end there first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.