Two mysterious teenage suicides just weeks apart have rocked Queensland’s largest independent Catholic school.
Jonah Waterson, 14, and Finn Meehan, 15, both appeared ‘happy’ and came from tight-knit, loving families.
But during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, something changed for the Iona College students in Brisbane’s bayside area.
‘The hard part with sudden death by suicide is you don’t get an answer,’ rector of the college Father Michael Twigg told the Courier Mail.
‘They were both prototype Ionians – run-of-the-mill good kids, smiling faces, engaged, involved, no trouble, just beautiful young people.’
Jonah’s parents, Peter and Fiona Waterson said the typical signs of depression or poor mental health – which can include withdrawal from family or friends, and the absence of emotion and enthusiasm – were not apparent in their son.
He loved his AFL, basketball and volleyball and on the morning of his tragic death he ate blueberry pancakes for breakfast with his family as if it was any Sunday.
Later that afternoon on May 31, the Year 9 student went for a ride on his bike and never returned home.
After Peter and Fiona spent the rest of the day searching for their son and calling nearby hospitals and police stations, officers eventually confirmed their worst fears.
Police showed the devastated parents CCTV images of Jonah minutes before his death.
They assumed what happened to him must have been a terrible accident, but officers told them ‘it appears to be deliberate’.
On June 3, the coroner confirmed Jonah’s death was a suicide.
In an attempt to find answers, police probed his computer search history and examined the contents of his bedroom and school locker.
But the search came up with nothing and his family are no closer to understanding why he ended his life.
‘To me, it doesn’t make sense (to blame) COVID – it didn’t affect us too much financially because my hours were only temporarily cut back, and Jonah’s sport had resumed and he’d had an awesome week at school,’ his father Peter said.
‘But by the same token, it doesn’t make sense for any other reason.’
With the students, parents and teachers at the school already overwhelmed with sadness, a second terrible tragedy just seven weeks later would compound their grief.
Year 10 student Finn Meehan, also took his own life in mysterious and unexpected circumstances on July 20.
The young man was an excellent sailor and member of the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron.
Father Twigg said there were no signs of bullying, disruption at home, or anything that would suggest there was a serious underlying problem.
Mental health experts have warned the coronavirus crisis will to lead to a dramatic rise in self harm.
University of Sydney Brain and Mind Centre Professor Ian Hickie predicted suicide rates could rise 50 per cent in Australia.
The free phone counselling service Lifeline has already taken more calls for suicide prevention since March than in any other time in the organisation’s history with a rise of 33 per cent.
Hospitals in the hardest hit state of Victoria have also seen incidents of self-harm among young people soar by a third over the past six weeks.
Professor Patrick McGorry, founder of youth mental health organisation Headspace says ‘social isolation during the coronavirus pandemic and anxiety about the future is creating a perfect storm affecting young people.’
‘Queensland wouldn’t be as impacted as it seems Victoria and other places are, but what this shows is we just don’t know where the impact is and how deep it goes,’ he said.
‘If you view it through the lens of a young person, they’re told there will be debt for decades, their ability to get and keep jobs diminished, and with a ‘missing year’ potentially of their learning, they’ll always be behind.’