WHAT DROVE HER TO DESPAIR?
By CRAIG McTEAR
UNABLE to fight her demons any longer, and with her pleas for help unanswered, Daniela decided to kill herself by driving off a mountain.
The attractive 28-year-old Coffs Harbour student had spent the previous night carefully planning her demise.
For her, it was the only way out of her misery.
On Monday, April 24, she drove her car to a picturesque spot not far from Sealy Lookout, consumed a potent cocktail of alcohol and drugs, and slammed her foot on the accelerator.
Luckily, she survived the 100-metre plunge, and was brave enough to approach the Advocate to tell her incredible story of despair, and hope.
Daniela says her severe breakdown started about Easter this year. The following week, on April 19, she saw her doctor who started her on a course of anti-depressants.
"She (the doctor) was afraid I could be suicidal. That's why she rang the hospital, to make them aware of it," she said.
"She said if it came to the worst, to go to the hospital because they'd know what to do, and to give them an explanatory letter she'd prepared."
Over the next few days, Daniela's condition deteriorated.
Anxiety, paranoia and depression were eating her alive, so she asked her neighbour on Saturday, April 22, to take her to Coffs Harbour Health Campus.
Her friends expected her to be admitted.
Daniela went into the emergency department at 7.30pm, handed over her letter and saw a young doctor.
"He asked me what I was doing here and what I wanted him to do, and I said 'that's why I'm here, I don't know what I need'.
"I had a feeling I was really going crazy, and I told him I'd lost it completely, I was out of control, and I didn't know what I was going to do.
"He asked me if I had friends, and why I was so depressed. He just didn't get it. I felt he didn't believe me.
"I asked him to please get me someone else. I felt I was getting nowhere.
"I tried to tell him I was afraid, I wasn't myself, and I needed someone to take over.
"I said I wanted to talk to a psychiatrist, because I felt he wasn't capable. He said there was no-one here on Saturday nights and it wasn't possible.
"I asked to go to the mental health ward, and he said I didn't fulfil the requirements ? I wasn't hearing voices and I wasn't seeing things which weren't there.
"He asked me if I would harm myself, and I told him 'not yet, but if you send me away, that's what I'm going to do'.
"He said I wasn't going crazy, I seemed to be a nice person, I was just a little bit down, I didn't want to go to the mental health unit, and that I should talk to my friends.
"He gave me the help line number, gave me a valium and said to go home and sleep."
When she walked out of the hospital, Daniela wandered south along the Pacific Highway, watching the big rigs pass by, trying to pick the one she was going to jump under.
Then, her mobile phone rang. On the other end was a friend, who drove to her rescue.
"After I was refused by the hospital, I just felt no-one could help me. I felt totally lost. Once I had this thought to kill myself, it didn't go away. I think I'd crossed the line."
The next night, she decided she didn't want to live anymore.
She remembers little about her plunge the next day.
The stunned avocado pickers who found her on the slope of the mountain told her what had happened.
Thankfully, a log and then a stump had stopped her from sliding into oblivion.
She was stretchered away by rescue crews and admitted as a mental health patient to Coffs Harbour Hospital, where tests confirmed she hadn't been injured.
After two nights in the surgical ward, she spent eight days in the mental health unit.
"It was good for me. The people in there are all in the same situation. They need help. They can't cope any more with life. It's good to be there and to be taken out of every-day life, with all its hassles and worries," Daniela said.
"It's not about counselling or groups. You get assessed by a psychiatrist. Every few days, they talk to you to see where you're at and how your medi- cation is working.
"They said I had severe depression and they put my course of anti-depressants up.
"Before they discharged me, they were in contact with my GP and made sure I would go for a visit. They asked me where I was going and where I was staying."
A friend, one of many who rallied around her, took Daniela in for the next month.
Mates organised another car for her, and her pals at TAFE helped with her studies.
And how does she feel now?
"It's difficult to say. So much has changed. I've changed heaps. I've got a lot of new friends," she said.
"Everyone knows what's happened, and I can be myself.
"I'm still recovering, so I wouldn't say everying is fine.
"Most things are a bigger effort, but I feel I've got support from people. It gives me the opportunity to get better within myself."
Daniela doesn't want to bag the hospital for not admitting her when she first sought help, but she still feels let down.
"I felt I did the right thing by going there for help. I should have been admitted, but it seems they didn't because I 'looked too normal'," she said.
"People who seem to be okay are the worst. There shouldn't be any criteria to get help immediately."