Rod Blair with daughter Tara Pitt.
Rod Blair with daughter Tara Pitt. Contributed

'He's gone': Coast's Survivor opens up on father's suicide

WHEN her father took his own life, Tara Pitt at first couldn't believe he was gone.

Even through the first devastating phone call from her mother on August 1 last year, the drive from Cooroy to her parents' Gympie home and conversations with sympathetic friends the loss didn't sink in.

"That whole day one was just a blur," Mrs Pitt said.

"It was just a feeling of me not really accepting it yet.

"Then one day I just opened up my eyes and went, 'he's gone'."

Then came the guilt, lasting two to three months after her father's death.

"I felt very much like I'd let him down, I wasn't there for him, I felt a little bit like I was going through a little bit of depression myself," Mrs Pitt said.

"I just couldn't get off the couch, the kids were suffering, and that's when I thought something has to change - I have to change my life because otherwise this is just going to go down the same path as my dad did."

That change was to apply for reality television series Survivor, and as the nation watches Mrs Pitt navigate the game on a national stage a year later, she is using her "five minutes of fame" to help raise awareness about suicide prevention and mental health.

Her father, Rod Blair, battled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since he returned from military service in Somalia in 1993, when Mrs Pitt was less than 10 years old.

"This wasn't the first time he'd tried to commit suicide, there were a couple of attempts during my teen years," Mrs Pitt said.

"I always just accepted he wasn't like other normal dads out there.

"It was one of those things where we as a family learned to adapt to that."

On bad days, he would sleep all day, and couldn't leave the house to visit family.

Mrs Pitt said looking back, her father seemed more withdrawn in the month before his death, but she has accepted that blaming herself was pointless.

While Mr Blair had been seeing a psychiatrist and attended support groups, Mrs Pitt wished he had found the help he needed earlier.

"It's just a shame that in '93 there probably wasn't as much awareness as there is now," she said.

"He might have spoken a bit to his friends who were also over in Somalia, but to me I think Dad was too proud to get the help he needed at the start, and that was when you really need to get it rolling.

"I was seven or eight when he got home, and I didn't even know what PTSD was until I was in my teenage years."

Competing in Survivor became a cathartic exercise that served as a distraction from her grief while honouring her father's legacy.

"When survivor came on and I auditioned, at first I thought maybe it was too soon, but really it helped me get through all that grieving period," Mrs Pitt said.

"It was just a distraction, in the game and also now heading out of the game, but it's a good distraction because I know he would love me being on there.

"Dad loved the outdoors - he was camping mad; he would drag me to Fraser Island and things like that. I felt like he was with me in Survivor."

At the start of this year she found the Mates 4 Mates charity, and wished her father had the opportunity to ask for their support, especially since they offered equine therapy and Rod was a horse lover.

She urged people to speak to their loved ones, friends and even acquaintances about how they're feeling.

"Just talk. That would be the first step, to reach out, talk to a friend, talk to a family member, talk to old Bob from IGA," she said.

"Let's just get more open and aware that you don't have to be a psychiatrist to go and ask your friend if they're okay."

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