INSIGHT: No one really wanted to get too close to “those guys”

Bryan Works Engineering

Bryan lives his daily life in the corporate world and as a father of two young children.  In the dark of night however, he wears a different mask and masquerades as the face of Works Engineering. Bryan potters around in a NB series Mazda MX5 and a Honda Integra DC2 Type R. He is a car lover and poor driver (in both senses of the word).

He hopes to do his little piece to bring greater awareness to depression.

Most of us were between the ages of 19-21, going through National Service.  Few of us really wanted to be there, but we generally made the most of it.  We’d heard of a couple of suicides, but never really understood the reasons.  To be honest, we probably felt it was someone else’s problem that wouldn’t impact us.

The army is a tough place.  Boys go in, men come out.  We were conscripts – most of us gritted our teeth, pushed through and discovered a side of us that we never knew existed.  Some struggle with it but are just told to “Harden up” and “Get the f’ing job done!  Don’t let the team down!”  The focus was always on the physical side.  The mental part of it was only beginning to come into consideration and it was always a fine line for the officers to distinguish the malingerers from those with genuine needs.

Back in the 1980s depression wasn’t a topic that was spoken about and it was generally misunderstood.  There was a stigma attached to suicide, particularly in Asia.  It happened to people who “had something wrong with them” and it was probably best to avoid them.  No one really wanted to get too close to “those guys” and it was considered someone else’s problem.

One of the members of my platoon, Teck, always appeared lethargic and felt he couldn’t do better.  He’d fail the physicals and we thought the work he did was generally sloppy.  We just believed that Teck never really put significant effort into anything, and we’d grind him afterwards for letting the team down.

The more thoughtful members of the platoon tried to be a bit more encouraging and shielded him a little, but after a while they perhaps yielded to group pressure and kept silent.

The pressure Teck felt must have been enormous because I remember a turning point.  That turning point was when we thought Teck felt fired up enough to do something, to get out and train and not let the team down.  He got up one afternoon and we didn’t see him for hours.  We’d finished for the day, ate dinner, and retired to our bunks.  But as most of us were coming out of the showers, Teck returned drenched in perspiration.  He’d gone for a run on his own and from the looks of it had run a marathon in army kit.

At that point we probably felt relieved that he finally decided to “buck up” but deep down, I think we felt that something might have snapped in him.  It probably would have helped if the platoon, as a team, recognized it and encouraged him further.  All Teck got was a token pat on the back.

I don’t remember much else in between as I finished my service shortly after.  I received a letter (we didn’t have email back then) from a platoon member a few months after I left, telling me that there had been a suicide.

Apart from the shock, the reactions from the platoon ranged from “Well there was always something wrong with that loser” to a simple “Oh, that’s sad”.  Their reactions probably had more to do with what he did, than why Teck chose to end his life.

Looking back, we didn’t know what it was or how to deal with it.  In hindsight, considering that Teck was a person we worked, ate and slept with, I wonder why we never recognized the symptoms then and realized all the things we could have done – provided more encouragement and support and let him know that we would pull through as a team and not just brush off his personal issues.  It clearly wasn’t as simple as “Everyone has problems, Teck”.

The memory of this was mostly brushed aside but other recent events brought all this back to light for me.  This time however, I was caught sitting on my thumbs.

I’m in my mid forties now and know firsthand three people who have died as a result of depression.  I also know two others who have attempted to take their own lives.

Depression awareness has come such a long way but at the same time, the illness has also become so much more widespread.  At least 350 million people live with depression.  It is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the global burden of disease. It affects not only the person with depression but their loved ones, too.

Don’t think that it isn’t your business, or that you have enough to deal with.  When someone you know or care about is no longer around, you’ll have a lifetime to wonder what you could have done.


If you or someone you know are having thoughts of suicide, please reach out. Call 13 11 14 for Lifeline’s 24hr Telephone Crisis Support or contact a mental health professional. If you are looking for other mental health resources, browse our Find Help page.

If life is in danger call 000.


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