The Anika Foundation

anika_school.jpgphoto_03.jpg

A month or so ago I watched a video of an excellent and terrifying report on 4 Corners on youth suicide focusing on the story of one young boy who was good at everything, loved by all, with lots of friends. He got prodigious scores. Then at the age of about 16 he discovered that he couldn’t do that well without working harder than he wanted to. And he had always known he was gay. He didn’t get hassled about it, it doesn’t seem. But these two things and perhaps the pressure of performing led him in the end to suicide at 17 – a favouriate age for it it seems.

The Anika foundation which is dedicated to doing what’s possible on youth suicide has just floated into Austrlalian economists’ ken because the RBA Deputy Governor is giving a speech to it. Further inspection shows that he’s on the board. And the reason is not had to see. Adrian Blundell-Wignall was a long time at the RBA and is now in the private sector (I think). Anika was his daughter. She suicided. I’ve reproduced her story from the website over the fold. I guess I’d think they were good poems anyway, but hindsight gives them an overwhelming poignancy.

Anika’s Story

On 17 May 2004 Anika was at home studying for a major mathematics assessment for the HSC to be held the next day. Anika left letters to her parents and friends apologizing and explaining to them that she could not cope any more with the pressure of the HSC, along with an issue with a friend. Anika was a top HSC student at SCEGGS Darlinghurst: she won one of the major prizes in the state-wide Intel Science competition in 2002 (third), and her assessments in all subjects were running in the 90’s. Anika had a close supportive family, including an older brother Tate and sister Danae. But Anika suffered from depression. She is no longer here.

Anika wrote dozens of poems about life and depression, and she also kept a secret diary of her life hidden away on her computer. Anika’s father is writing a book about her life, jointly and posthumously with her. When the book is published, all revenues from it will go to the Anika Foundation to support research into depression in Australia.

Here is one of Anika’s early poems from when she was 12 years old.

People are like flowers
There are many different types
None of them are identical
Some die out
And some live on
Some flourish and bloom
Bright with colours
Others stay normal and plain
Many aren’t recognised, and stay as buds
-never come out
Some are pointed out and get great recognition
But all flowers have their chance to bloom
And only half of them do

Anika Wignall

A few years later she wrote this one.

I think life is like building a card house or castle
You take all of these cards
One for love
One for friends
One for truth
One for lies
One for school
One for work
One for play
One for sleeping
One for dreaming
One for anger
One for joy
One for sadness
And many more

And you start to build
And sometimes you bump a card
Accidentally, and it all falls down
Other times you get further
And some really interesting cards are used
Some people can build a really big house
And when they put their last card on
Their life’s work is done
Other people build little houses
And they don’t use many cards at all
We’re all building card houses

Anika Wignall

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Don Arthur
Don Arthur
15 years ago

When I was in primary school my ideas about self-worth were tied up with the idea of natural ability — you either had it or you didn’t. Unless success came easily and I assumed that I didn’t have any talent for an activity and that it wasn’t worth doing (why bother doing something you can NEVER be good at?). Looking back, this wasn’t healthy. Instead of working at things I wasn’t good at straight away, I kept searching for something I could do perfectly on the first go. “Everyone has something they’re good at” adults used to say, “the trick is to discover what it is.”

I wonder if this kind of warped thinking is screwing up kids who pin their self-worth on being above average at something. When you say that that the boy on the 4 Corners program “discovered that he couldn’t do that well without working harder…” I wonder if he saw this as evidence that he lacked talent. After all, isn’t it only dumb students who have to work hard to get good grades? Isn’t it only plain girls who have to wear make up?

When high performing kids find they have to work incredibly hard to stay on top I wonder whether some of them start to see themselves as frauds and worry that the next exam, race or competition will expose them for what they really are. Are they secretly ashamed? Do they live in fear?

Link
15 years ago

Dostoyeveksy:

“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on Earth.”

Maths exam, egads, she got out of that.

Sad post. She was too young to realise that the pressure of the HSC would soon be over and forgotten. Sometimes, the passage of time helps our understanding and sometimes it just reminds us that we still feel as terrible as ever. Sometimes.

Gaby
Gaby
15 years ago

Thanks Nicholas for bringing this painful and scary issue, and the poems, so sensitively to our awareness. I think the poems are very fine too.

I think Don Arthur’s comment is excellent. The importance that the facility of accomplishment that talent gives and the fear of failure in performance before a kid is strong enough to bear and use it are very important factors.

In fact, after a quick survey of my friends and peers, it is often not the most naturally gifted that have succeeded the most but the most dedicated and diligent.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

This is shocking stuff. Though you do hear about this sort of thing happening in Japan.

david tiley
15 years ago

Hard work is no answer to depression. This from three days ago:

“As one of the country’s hardest-working artists, Bronwyn Oliver spent more time in her Haberfield studio than anywhere else.

It is where the 47-year-old sculptor was found dead on Tuesday, weeks before she was to hold her 11th solo exhibition at the Roslyn Oxley gallery….

…Oliver was born in Gum Flat, near Inverell, but had not had any contact with her family for 25 years. “My family and I are divorced,” she told the Herald last year, refusing to say why. She enrolled to study painting at Alexander Mackie College of Advanced Education in Sydney (now the College of Fine Arts), but a computer error landed her in the sculpture class. In 1981 she won a NSW Travelling Art Scholarship and did her masters at the Chelsea School of Art in London. She never had children, but taught infants at Cranbrook School in Bellevue Hill for 19 years.

The Herald’s art critic, John McDonald, said Oliver’s style was distinctive. “I think she was a very individual sculptor, she had really made that style her own,” he said. “It’s a sadly truncated career, I really feel she would have gone on to bigger and better things.”

An art market analyst, Michael Reid, said the sudden death of Oliver, who took her own life, was a tragedy. “Her pared back aesthetic was greatly appreciated. I expect her to go down as one of the greatest Australian artists of the decade,” he said.

Full story at http://tinyurl.co.uk/ztrb

Ghastly, heartwrenching waste.

Cameron Reilly
15 years ago

Great post. I’ve been trying to find someone to host a regular podcast on the issues of teen depression & suicide for a year. I think it’s an issue which still doesn’t get talked about enough in the media, although awareness is higher now than it was a decade ago. We all need to be more aware of the warning signs of depression and how to combat them, both if you are the person suffering from it, or the family and friends of someone who suffers from it.

Angharad
Angharad
15 years ago

Nicholas – thanks for the post

Cameron – try the Inspire Foundation http://www.inspire.org.au

They do lots of work with young people in all sorts of creative ways. Their focus is on suicide prevention. Jack Heath, CEO, is a great communicator.

Anonposter
Anonposter
15 years ago

As the brother of two suicides, seperated by 10 years in date of passing, but both still at a young age, I think after many years of painful searching and pondering, I can conclude at least in my circumstance, that without doubt the academic pressure placed on children to “succeed” not only is unrealistic but frankly borders on cruelty. Our education system needs to become a whole lot more focussed on students as human beings rather than intellectual “fact factories” and the persons capability for passing exams. A need for relaxation, restful sleep, acceptance, awareness of health and the body and many other areas are completely omitted from the educational experience. Being knowledgable doesnt make you healthy as the self inflicted passing of many “genuises” in history will testify. A massive overhaul in our whole approach to “education” needs to be made, we are long way from whats needed. Just possibly the rising teen suicide rate is a tragic reflection of this? Is any one courageous enough to take this on though? We have whole truckloads of educators to re-educate or fire to achieve whats needed.

anon sceggs girl
anon sceggs girl
14 years ago

I was a few years younger than Anika and remember this time well. Even though I knew little of her, I could still feel her absence within the school. SCEGGS being the close community that it is, were very shocked by Anika’s passing. Through the events and response that followed I myself came to realise the support the school community provides, each girl is highly valued and a strong emotional bond holds us together.
Yes, we are worked excessively hard, and I do sympathise with Anika, but this should not be a price for anyone to pay. I myself have recently undergone a situation similar to Anika’s, it was her story and impact on the school community that had a significant influence on my recovery. Despite our only link being our attendance to SCEGGS, I have been deeply touched by Anika. I wish her family and friends well, and thank them for the work and support they are providing those, such as myself, with depression.

It is evident that Anika was a true SCEGGS girl, as her light still shines, LUCEAT LUX VESTRA.
Forever in my heart and mind..
Anon SCEGGS girl