A heartbroken daughter wants to raise awareness of the impact of suicide just weeks after the devastating loss of her father.
For 20-year-old Grace Milne, the shock of losing her dad and best friend to suicide in late August has triggered a myriad of emotions.
Her plea for better understanding and support around the tragic issue comes in the wake of numerous high-profile deaths and a suicide rate that continues to be a glaring problem for Ballarat.
Mark Milne was a well-known face around Ballarat. A friendly, fun-loving, joker known lovingly as 'The Bear', he loved sport and above all else, his family and friends.
Born in Castlemaine, his family later moved to Ballarat, where he spent most of his life. A huge Geelong fan, he was also heavily involved in a number of football clubs including Gordon and Ballarat North.
He was a community-minded person with countless friends across the community and he was always more than happy to extend a helping hand to anyone in need.
But beneath his cheerful persona he was struggling mentally, though the first his family and friends learnt about his struggles was when it was too late.
Youngest child Grace was extremely close with her dad. When her older brother Campbell was born, Mark decided he wanted to spend as much time as possible with his children and wife Camille and trained to be a primary school teacher.
Grace has fond memories of primary school, when her dad would take her and her brother out for lunch and spend weekends and school holidays with them.
He was the dad you dream of having as a kid. He was our best friend and because he was such a big kid himself, he just understood us so well. He was just the best.Grace Milne
When the siblings finished primary school, Mark started a job he loved at the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA), where he worked for more than a decade.
But that didn't stop the family spending as much time as possible together. They would regularly go camping, to the beach or to theme parks. When they weren't laughing as they watched trashy reality programs together, Grace and her dad would cook together. Mark was a talented cook who loved to prepare food for his friends and family to enjoy.
"Everyone's happiness was so important to him. That's what he got happiness from as well, seeing other people happy," Grace said.
She laughs as she remembers how her dad was famous for never using a recipe, so she would watch him like a hawk to memorise the steps she wasn't allowed to note down.
Grace does not know why her dad took his life, and questioning why has plagued her in the weeks afterwards.
Mark's suicide comes amid the Ballarat community being rocked by a number of sudden deaths this year, including AFL great Danny Frawley who died in a single car crash at Millbrook in September.
An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report released earlier this year, titled Mortality Over Regions and Time (MORT), revealed there were 60 male suicides recorded in Ballarat during the five years from 2013 until 2017. The number put the city's suicide rate 30 per cent above the state average.
"He was the happiest, bubbliest person I knew. He was always laughing and had the happiest disposition. I'm sure everyone says this but he was just the last person I would have expected," she said.
Grace has experienced loss before, when her pa passed away earlier this year, but the way she felt when she lost her father was different.
"I was really angry at first. I was angry for what he put me and everyone through," she said.
But then she began to see the situation through other people's eyes - she felt people were thinking less of her father for one decision he made and she started to feel defensive.
When she began to feel defensive of her dad - 'the best father in the world' - the anger dissipated and empathy started to swell.
"I've never been in that place so I don't know what he was going through, I just think that he obviously had so much turmoil inside of him so the best thing I can do for him now is to give him peace by forgiving him," she said.
Since her dad passed away she has felt a sense of helplessness. She felt it with her pa too, but it was much stronger after she lost her dad.
"In a way I felt I failed him because we were so close, the best of friends, so I felt I really let him down by not knowing what he was going through.
"He always knew if I was trying to hide something so I felt I let him down by not being able to do the same thing. So I thought that instead of continuing to sit around and beat myself up about it, I would think of a way to channel [those feelings] into something more productive."
Grace will celebrate her 21st birthday next month and has started a fundraiser to raise money for Suicide Prevention Australia.
Since starting the fundraiser, she has received messages from a number of people whose lives have also been touched by suicide and has come to realise what a big issue it is in the region.
"My main intention in starting the fundraiser was to do a tribute for my dad but since a lot of people have reached out to me and I've learnt what a massive issue it is here, I'm really keen to create more awareness of suicide."
She wants people to remember her dad for all the things that he was and for what he achieved in life, to make sure there is still always a piece of her dad in the world.
She wants to raise awareness that even seemingly happy people may be struggling with their mental health, so talking more about suicide so it is not a taboo subject is important.
"My dad was always the life of the party, the happiest person I knew. But now I know you can never assume anything. Every person is dealing with something you know nothing about so you have to make sure everyone is okay, not just the people who ask for help," she said.
She is trying not to dwell on how she lost her dad but rather, to think that life can still be good even if it is not what she thought it would be, like how great of a grandfather he would have been.
For the rest of my life, the happiest moments will also be a little bit sad, because every time something really good happens, I will wish my dad was there to share it with.Grace Milne
For her, it is the little things that are a sharp reminder that her dad is no longer with her, like when she watches a funny video and her immediate thought is that her dad would find it hilarious.
Family friend Peter Blenkiron said suicide had taken a huge toll on the Ballarat community and action needed to be taken to change that.
He said men often felt they could push through emotional challenges and deal with them themselves but asking for help was not a sign of weakness but of strength.
Breaking the thought pattern of not feeling good enough, that everybody is better off without you, is difficult, so it is important to seek help.
"I left my own struggles for a long time and that's why I ended up in such a challenging space but you can always come back from it with the right help. It's never too late, there is always hope."
"He was such a larger than life character who made one mistake - he thought he could get on with it and didn't give the emotional content the attention it needed and eventually, it took over. We are all sad we didn't see it coming and weren't able to help," he said.
Mr Blenkiron said it was often a moment of distorted logic in which people convince themselves life is too tough and if he had asked for help, he could have unpacked what he was feeling with somebody and it would have been a different story.
His memory is not that one decision. His memory is he is a great man and at one moment his brain did not function the way it normally would but that can't take away from his whole life. His whole life has been as a great dad, husband, good mate, great teammate, work colleague - all these other things can't be taken away.Peter Blenkiron
Suicide Prevention Australia is the peak body for the suicide prevention sector. Its role is to develop policy and provide advocacy for the sector and more than 270 member organisations such as Lifeline, Beyond Blue, The Black Dog Institute, RUOK and Everymind, among others.
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Chief executive officer Nieves Murray said there was no simple answer to why males were consistently over represented in suicide figures.
"There's no simple answer to this. What we do know is that males, especially those above the age of 35, often find it challenging to engage with support services," she said.
"They are less likely to have conversations around their mental well-being as there is still, unfortunately, stigma associated with men seeking help. This is particularly evident in rural and regional areas where access to services is limited."
Ms Murray said though it was often difficult to notice the signs, it was important that everyone takes the time to check in with those around them to ensure nobody is facing challenges alone.
Each Australian lost to suicide has a unique set of circumstances and there is always a sense of shock when someone ends their life.Suicide Prevention Australia CEO Nieves Murray
"As a community we have a responsibility to one another and the more seriously we take that responsibility, the stronger community we can build."
Ms Murray said generational changes in how suicide is addressed have seen more discussions about mental health, leading to a greater understanding of the challenges faced by so many Australians.
"We continue to see strong support from all levels of Government when it comes to addressing suicide and we are confident that this will continue," she said.
If you or someone you know is in need of support, phone Lifeline 13 11 14. Help is also available from Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636, beyondblue.org.au or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
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