DIFFICULT PAST: Taleah Carroll speaks at the Black Tie Ball about her experience with mental health issues.
DIFFICULT PAST: Taleah Carroll speaks at the Black Tie Ball about her experience with mental health issues. Caitlan Charles

'I was told I was selfish'

WARNING: sensitive content

When Taleah Carroll stood in front of The Black Tie Ball to talk about her experience with anxiety and depression, she described herself as an 'average Joe'.

She wasn't a psychologist, an athlete or a successful journalist, but she knew exactly what it was like to grow up in Grafton. "I'm here because our community has lost too many teenagers and I want to be a part of the chance to make sure that stops happening. I'm lucky to be here after I attempted to take my own life when I was 17 years old," she said.

"Growing up, I was the show-off and the kid that made everyone laugh. I was raised mainly by my nan and pop who thought I was the bees' knees and they loved me dearly.

"Thinking they were doing the right thing, they made sure I had a relationship with my mum. Mental illness runs in our family and my mum self-medicated with alcohol every night. I don't have a lot of positive memories of her. I figured out early on that the caring mum she was in public was just an act and the mean mum I got behind closed doors was scary and real."

When she was 11, Taleah's nan was diagnosed with cancer and her mum's drinking became worse. "I spent a lot of time by my nan's bed putting on shows her for and trying to make her smile, she was the most caring person I've ever met and made everyone feel important. My nan was the glue that held our family together," she said.

"Losing her a year later was one of the hardest things.

"Two weeks after nan's funeral, my life turned upside down. I don't know how to say it other than my mum's partner at the time started to rape me."

Threatened with the murder of herself and her brother, Taleah didn't tell anyone, thinking no one would believe her.

"Like my mum, I became two different people - out in public I was still the carefree joker who loved the spotlight, at home I lay in bed and cried and thought about dying," she said. "I felt that making people laugh was easier than telling my truth and sometimes it just felt better to pretend it wasn't happening.

"To cope I threw myself into hockey and I would crash at friends' houses whenever I could, I kept my secret, even from my closest friends.

"My depression and anxiety would tell me lies, I started to believe that nobody really cared about me.

"Even though, looking back, I realise just how many people would have taken me in if I was ready to tell them."

When she was 17, she took three packets of her pop's pain medication and when he found her, he took her to hospital where she wasn't met with the help and understanding she needed. "I'd like to say that I got the help and compassion that I clearly needed there, but most of the staff treated me with disgust," Taleah said.

"I was told that I was selfish for taking up a bed for a person that actually needed it. I felt so ashamed.

"After a week in the children's ward and a lot of shocked and angry conversations with friends and family, I was let out on the agreement that I would have three mandatory counselling sessions.

"Counselling was the only resource I was offered."

When she returned to school, everyone knew, calling her selfish and attention seeking.

"They proved that the stigma around mental health in this town was real, but it is obvious from tonight that from this amazing turnout by our community is ready to change that," Taleah said.

"My friends, and one special aunty in particular were amazing, they knew I was sad and I realised they loved me anyway.

"I slowly started to talk to them and I started doing my own research on mental health and people opened up to me about times they felt just like me. I didn't feel alone any more."

If this story has raised any issues, or you or someone you love is in crisis or needs support, help is available. Phone:

Lifeline: 13 11 14 Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636