The unexpected death of Australian model and celebrity Annalise Braakensiek caught me off guard last week. No “suspicious circumstances” and links to crisis prevention support phone lines indicate that Annalise may have died by suicide. On the surface this beautiful woman appeared to have it all. A jewellery & lingerie designer, a successful modelling career and a healthy “zen-like” lifestyle. Annalise also suffered depression and had been an ambassador for RUOK, an organisation dedicated to promoting suicide awareness, creating meaningful conversations and staying connected. Annalise knew how important it was to seek help. Seeking help is easier said than done.
In the days following her death, a number of insensitive comments were made suggesting she was “selfish” and “she had nothing to be depressed about.” Similar comments were made following the suicide deaths of celebrities Kate Spade, L’wren Scott and Charlotte Dawson. Frustrated by the lack of understanding and compassion around people who die suicide I tweeted.
“A reminder about suicide. People are not selfish, they are in extreme emotional pain. Often do not want to die just want pain to stop. No amount of money or celebrity status diminishes the pain. Suicide doesn’t discriminate”
According to Womens Health Victoria Inquiry into Suicide in Australia (2009) suicide is traditionally seen as a mens issue however the most recent Australian Bureau of statistics 2017 suggest that the suicide rates for women continue to rise with a median age of 45.7, Annalise Braakensiek was 46. One of the leading experts in Womens mental health, Professor Jayashri Kulkarni states:
“Its a hidden problem to some extent because there’s an assumption that middle aged women are able to deal with life or they don’t suicide.” Many women are impacted by depression and anxiety particularly around time of menopause and the time preceding menopause known as perimenopause.
My own lived experience of suicide at age 46 was perhaps the catalyst for writing this blog. Following on from a brief psychotic episode, depression took on a strangle hold. The medications I had been prescribed caused severe agitation. I lost hope. A novice psychologist I saw reinforced my belief that I would possibly never return to the full life I had previously known. Whilst she suggested acceptance commitment therapy, suicidal thoughts were spreading like a noxious weed throughout my mind. I perceived I was alone and I perceived I was a burden. My emotional pain was intolerable however I never reached out for help. I never uttered a word to my psychiatrist. I was ashamed. I was a mental health professional. This was my identity. This wasn’t meant to happen to me. I had lost touch with reality and entered into purgatory. Entrapped in a day to day psychological living hell. The incessant rambling of the suicidal mind preoccupied most of my days.
“I will lose my job”. “I will lose my identity”. ” I can not bare this pain”. “I will never recover”. “I am a burden to my family” . “They are better off without with me”.
Prominent researchers in the area of suicide, Thomas Joiner (2009) and Rory O’Connor (2014) have provided an evidence base into the reasons why people suicide however more research is needed (diagram Interpersonal Theory of Suicide, Joiner 2009). These explanatory models have assisted me to comprehend the complex, deeply interconnected factors of why people die by suicide.
We will never know all the facts around Annalise Braakensiek’s decision to end her life. We know she was living alone. She had experienced a painful relationship breakdown. In 2017 she spoke openly about the impact of depression on her life. She described feeling “immobilised by a dark cloud”. Many friends who had seen her prior to her death described that outwardly she appeared fine. This is the thing about suicidal pain. You cant see it. People are very good at masking their pain.
Footnote. Crisis support services can be reached 24 hours a day. In Australia, Lifeline 131114, Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; Mensline Australia 1300 789978; Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.