Warning: This article discusses suicide. If you need help, contact Lifeline on 0800 543 354 or text 4357 (HELP).
Losing his daughter to suicide left Auckland man Garry Turner heartbrokenand lost.
When his son also died suddenly as a result of a suspected suicide five years later, he was plunged into the depths of a despair he could never have imagined.
With the number of lives lost to suspected suicides increasing in the past year Turner and other family members have now spoken out to senior crime and justice reporter Anna Leask about the unfathomable loss of Mia and Daniel, in a bid to raise awareness and help those suffering to realise there is always hope and a future.
The call came from his son.
His daughter had ended her life. Her body was found at a relative’s home earlier that day.
His mind began to spin as his heart shattered into uncountable pieces.
Mia had been struggling for many years with mental health and addiction and he knew she was in a dark place – but he never expected this.
And then, not even five years later, he got a call from his son Daniel’s best mate with similar news.
Daniel was gone.
“This really wasn’t in my plan for the future… it has turned my life upside down,” Turner told the Weekend Herald.
“It has been terrible. Mia’s in a way, was not unexpected because she was really struggling… it was a shock but not really a great surprise.
“Mia, she was only 20. She did it just before her 21st birthday.
“With Daniel, it wasn’t expected at all.
“It was just deja vu… It’s heartbreaking, it really is… it just steals your future from you.
“Not in my wildest dreams did I think that both my children would ever be gone before me… and not like this.
“It has been terrible.”
Earlier this month it was revealed that the number of Kiwis who have died in suspected suicides has increased- rising from 551 in the year to June 2022 to 565 this year.
The data, released by the chief coroner, showed men were more than twice as likely to die by suicide than females.
The suspected suicide rate for men in the year to June 2023 was 15.2 and 6 per 100,000 for females.
Turner said the number of suicides in New Zealand was alarming and he hoped that by speaking openly about his loss he could help others on the brink – and their families.
He looks back at the birth of both his children with joy and love.
He is the first to admit that at times he was far from a perfect father.
He had his own struggles with alcohol and his marriage to Mia and Daniel’s mother did not last.
He sought help for his drinking in 2016 and is now sober and continues to have weekly counselling.
Mia was just days away from her 21st birthday when she died on December 13 2017 on Auckland’s North Shore
Since she was about 12 Mia struggled with her mental health – including self-harming – and later had serious issues with drugs and alcohol.
She was known to community mental health and alcohol and drug services and was under the care of a private psychiatrist.
In the month before her death, Mia was admitted to a residential rehabilitation programme.
However, she discharged herself on December 8.
On December 12 she saw her GP, who said she was “not considered to be at imminent risk of suicide”.
The next day she was found dead at a relative’s home.
The Coroner formally ruled Mia’s death as a suicide after considering the facts and hearing from her family she was a “very troubled young soul”, who they had tried in vain to help.
They told the Coroner they had “sought help from a variety of health practitioners and mental health and drug and alcohol services, over several years”.
“(They) expressed the view that none of the services or organisations seemed to help… and (were) critical of the mental health system generally including funding… for a young woman in Ms Turner’s situation struggling with mental health issues,” the Coroner’s report stated.
Daniel Turner, 28 died at Piha on May 25 2022.
His death has been referred to the Coroner as a suspected suicide.
Because of this, the Weekend Herald cannot publish further details of Daniel’s last hours.
Turner said his son had been reported missing and his family and friends were all out looking for him when he got the news.
“We were out of cell phone coverage for most of the time, and it wasn’t until we drove back into the coverage area that I had a call from Dan’s best friend who said ‘Garry, I’m so sorry to hear the news’.
“I hadn’t actually heard the news until then, the police were trying to ring me but obviously I wasn’t able to be contacted while I was out in the Piha area.”
Turner said the news absolutely floored him.
“Mia was troubled, so while it was a huge shock, it was less of a surprise… but with Daniel, no, I never thought this would happen with him,” he said.
Mia had been studying law before her last stint in rehab.
Turner said she was outgoing, had a great sense of humour and was “very intelligent” and clever but fell in with the wrong crowd which exacerbated her struggles.
Daniel was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome as a child but did not let that stop him from living his dreams.
He was gentle and friendly and owned his own house and had a job he loved driving a rubbish truck – a vehicle he had been obsessed with since he was young.
“My son was only interested in one thing – and that was rubbish or refuse trucks, he used to wait all day outside for the rubbish trucks to come,” Turner said.
“Dan didn’t do so well at school but he did what he really wanted to do, and that was driving rubbish trucks. And so he was living the dream and everything was happy.”
Turner said his children had a good relationship and got on well with his current wife Annemarie and her daughter Jacqui.
The couple met in 2005 and married in 2009 – with Daniel acting as best man and Mia a bridesmaid.
Turner said the deaths of both children – individually and together – hit him “very hard”.
He considered taking his own life in 2019 as he struggled to navigate his grief after Mia’s death.
But he found his way through and turned to weekly counselling and exercise to help him survive his pain.
“I just have to block a lot of things out of my head and I’ve got to keep myself busy,” he said.
“I can’t allow myself to sit there and think about it too much because my head goes down a wormhole and I am thinking about could I have done this… or maybe this wouldn’t have happened if….
“You always have this self-doubt that you could have done something to avoid it.”
Turner, for many years, worked as a credit controller for a number of high-profile accounting firms.
However he has not been able to work at all since Daniel died.
“The mental health services for me personally has been good,” he said.
“I’ve got a good doctor, I’ve got a good psychiatrist and they’ve given me support. “
Turner said exercising daily and drumming – in a sunroom set up with all his kit and huge portraits of Mia and Daniel to inspire him – has also helped him.
He has offered free drum lessons for anyone else in his area suffering from mental health issues because he has found it so helpful in his own journey.
“Often when I’m playing the drums and doing my music I talk to them – they’re all here, like a family just watching over me,” he said.
He wanted to share his story because he worried mental health and suicide were not discussed openly enough in New Zealand and still cloaked in a lot of shame and stigma.
He recalled when Mia died someone at his workplace suggesting he keep quiet about the details, but soon after when a colleague’s father died, that was acknowledged and the life celebrated.
He felt that no matter how Mia and Daniel died, they were also worth celebrating and remembering.
“If I can stop even one person from committing suicide, that’s worth it,” he said.
“What I’ve witnessed is as soon as it’s suicide-related, then it’s not really talked about… if there is a death, and it turns out to be a suicide it just won’t be discussed.
“I just don’t know why that is – if we don’t talk about suicide, how are we supposed to get a better grasp on it?
“Some days are harder than others for me, but knowing that sharing their story might be thing thing that saves someone else helps me.”
Turner said the support of Mike King and his mental health charity I Am Hope had helped him navigate some dark times.
“Losing one child is devastating; losing two is unimaginable,” King told the Weekend Herald.
“Garry’s pain is profound. Unfortunately, Garry’s experience is not unique, and it reflects the worsening mental health issues in New Zealand.
“To address this, we need a more compassionate approach that treats individuals, especially kids, as humans, not just statistics.
“We’ll keep fighting for a more humane mental health system to support young people like Daniel and Mia and prevent such tragedies.”
King said I am Hope was “increasingly inundated with pleas for help” from people like Turner who had suffered loss, and families “desperately trying to support struggling young individuals”.
“Their stories share a common theme: a lack of available help when they reach out,” he said.
Turner’s wife Annmaree supported him sharing the family’s tragedy and pain publicly.
She said she considered Mia and Daniel as her own and loved it when they came to stay and when she could spend time with them.
Both deaths had been “shocking and upsetting”
Her daughter Jacqui Foy also wanted to speak out about the loss of her stepsiblings in the hopes sharing her story would prevent other families from experiencing similar loss.
Jacqui said she was naturally closer to Mia than Daniel but loved them both.
“I always told my mum I wanted siblings so when I got them it was quite a blessing – not just one, but two siblings,” she said.
She remembered Mia “spiralling” before she died but did not realise how bad things were.
“We never thought she would do what she did,” she said
“For years we experienced her mental health struggle and we just thought this was a temporary episode but unfortunately…
“The last time I saw her I told her I loved her. She was a bit out of it that day… we were constantly offering her help but she would tell me she felt like a burden, like a negative presence in people’s lives and she did not deserve the chances.
“Things obviously got out of control.”
When her mother told her Mia had died, Jacqui was bereft.
“I went uncontrollably nuts, I fell to the ground crying… then for six or seven hours I just sat, staring… I didn’t say a word. I couldn’t move, I was just in shock.
“I was so numb.”
Jacqui said she still felt that way to a point.
“They say things get better with time but I disagree – things don’t get better, you just get better at coping with it.”
When Daniel died the grief began again, and everything about Mia came flooding back.
“It was very intense… things had been going so well for Dan… none of us knew he was struggling, none of us had any idea,” she said.
“When mum messaged to say Dan was missing I thought ‘no, surely not’ and I kept trying to convince myself out of it.
“But as the hours went on, it got more and more serious.”
Later Daniel’s friends would tell his family he’d admitted several times that he had “thought about giving up”.
But no one thought he would act on his dark feelings.
Jacqui was with Garry Turner and her mum when they found out Daniel’s body had been found.
“I couldn’t fathom it… I just looked at Garry and it hit me – f**k he’s lost two children now… it was a really crazy moment, she said.
“I just could not believe it had happened, I still feel very numb… you hear about people losing one child to suicide but two in such traumatic ways… it’s awful.
“This is not something we will ever get over.”
She wanted to reach out to anyone struggling and considering ending their life.
“There are people who love you, there is always something in life worth living for and I think everyone has a purpose and everyone deserves to live a beautiful life,” she said.
“It is completely OK to have bad days – we all do – but don’t let it consume you.
“A temporary feeling doesn’t need to lead to a permanent solution… think about your family around you, there are people who love you so, so much that will be heavily impacted if you are gone.
“There is always someone out there to support you and talk to you – don’t ever feel that you are nothing or a burden because you are never a burden.
“Try to rebel against your mind, and talk to the people who love you.”
She said talking to loved ones about their lives and checking in regularly was also important.
“Sadly, our family is the perfect example of what happens behind closed doors and how you never know what someone is going through,” she said.
“It is so important to check in… a simple check-in could really make someone’s day, it could change everything for them.”
Anna Leask is a Christchurch-based reporter who covers national crime and justice. She joined the Herald in 2008 and has worked as a journalist for 18 years. She writes, hosts and produces the award-winning podcast A Moment In Crime, released monthly on nzherald.co.nz
SUICIDE AND DEPRESSION
Where to get help: • Lifeline: Call 0800 543 354 or text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: Call 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7) • Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: Call 0800 376 633 or text 234 • What’s Up: Call 0800 942 8787 (11am to 11pm) or webchat (11am to 10.30pm)
• Depression helpline: Call 0800 111 757 or text 4202 (available 24/7) • Helpline: Need to talk? Call or text 1737
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111