WHEN Alex Reichman left Ballarat’s Red Lion Hotel last month without saying goodbye to his mates, no one could have imagined he would be gone forever.
What came next for family and friends of the 21-year-old was fear and sadness – eventually learning that Alex had taken his own life for seemingly no reason at all.
After hundreds of people shared information and images of Alex on social networking websites and throughout Ballarat during a two-day search, his smiling face disappeared from view after the cause of his death was confirmed.
Determined that another chapter be added to his story, Alex’s mother Leanne Bradley and his girlfriend Jessica Woodruff have pleaded for anyone suffering in silence to speak up and seek help.
They want the graduate apprentice’s legacy to be the conversations which could save lives across the region.
“He was a happy-go-lucky, cheeky, caring and very into health,” Leanne said yesterday.
“Alex told me everything that was going on for him, or at least I thought. I am still in shock that he thought he needed to do this.”
Growing up in Beaufort before moving to Ballarat aged 16, Alex had a strong group of friends from sport, school and nights out.
He and Jessica had been all but inseparable for more than two years.
Together they’d explored Thailand to celebrate his 21st birthday, living together and sharing their lives.
Committed to his brothers and sister, Alex doted on his nieces and nephews and loved playing pool, watching Carlton or heading to the pub with mates.
After a crowded funeral honouring their son and brother, Alex’s family came together during the Christmas season to mourn.
Despite the summer heat, a candle continues to burn in Leanne Bradley’s house, surrounded by notes of sympathy for a life ended too soon.
Before the night of December 16, Jessica said Alex had never suffered from mental illness or showed any signs of depression or anxiety.
“He sent a text message saying ‘I’m over it’ and ‘talk to you soon’ but you don’t think that means you will never speak to someone again,” she said.
“Alex had said to people he would never do anything like take his own life because he loved his mates and his family too much.”
She laughed describing him playing with his dog Mu, pretending he didn’t like the pet only to be heard later saying ‘I love you’.
“We’d spent the Saturday night at home watching a movie and Alex just sat their laughing and laughing. We’d made plans for the next day and talked about Christmas presents so everything that has happened since that night is just so surreal,” Jessica said.
After recent high-profile disappearances including Melbourne woman Jill Meagher and Sarah Cafferkey of Bacchus Marsh, Jessica moved quickly to share information about Alex on Facebook. Bank records showed he hadn’t accessed his savings and with no contact with anyone since leaving the Main Road nightspot, no clues were found.
Small groups tried to retrace the steps Alex might have taken that night, looking for any sign of his whereabouts or state of mind.
Friends and strangers reached out to Jessica and Alex’s family as a police investigation was launched but when his mates listening to an emergency services scanner heard reports of a body found in Ballarat on December 18, their worst fears were quickly confirmed.
“The coroner’s report says Alex died on the 18th,” Leanne said, “but I know in my heart he really died two days earlier than that.”
After the recent suicide of a close friend of the family, Leanne had talked to her son about the issue.
“The celebrant at Alex’s funeral said young people think taking your own life is somehow not final and can be undone."
Despite Alex refusing to connect with his mother or brothers on social networking websites, the family remains overwhelmed by the support they have received.
“Facebook can be absolutely terrible at its worst, but when you want to spread information and know people out there are looking and trying to help it was amazing,” Jessica said. “Now we just want people to get the message that they should speak about what they are going through and not be ashamed of saying that everything is not right.”
She said friends should talk to friends about issues of health and happiness even when no warning signs present themselves.
“You never know what someone doesn’t say to you and I thought I knew everything that was going on in Alex’s head.”
Both women called for better public dialogue about suicide, imploring schools and the media to encourage the spread of information and support mechanisms for people who feel they need help.
Jessica and Leanne said their lives would never return to normal after Alex’s death, but if other families could be spared similar suffering because of better communication then Alex would live on.
“There is too much at stake for people not to do this and you will regret not having talked to the people you love,” Leanne said.
Assistance is available for anyone in need of support. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or speak to your local GP or counsellor. Talking to a family member, colleague, friend or neighbour can help with feelings of depression, anxiety or thoughts of suicide. beyondblue, the national depression initiative, has information and resources available at www.beyondblue.org.au or 1300 224 636