The Blog

Did My Brother Commit Suicide Because He Felt He Couldn't Ask for Help?

Chris was gone. The brother who was born in the same year as me, but wasn't my twin. Irish twins it's called. Born 11 months apart, stuck at the hip while we were kids, the one who used to take the flak for all my mischief.

It was World Mental Health Day on October 10. A year to the day that I got the phone call to tell me my brother had committed suicide.

A year since I went from having a brother called Chrissy, to being someone who used to have a brother called Chrissy.

It was 12.50pm on a Friday when I got the call.

''Lou, it's your brother. I'm so sorry love, but he's gone, he's died.'

I have two brothers, and the youngest had recently been in hospital with a DVT. How could he have died, he was taking blood thinning tablets, he'd looked pretty healthy the last time I saw him..?

As if hearing my thoughts, the voice at the other end of the phone clarified.

"It's not's Chris, it's awful Lou, I'm sorry, he's hung himself.'

In that moment, everything stopped and crystallized like I'd just put on a pair of super-charged glasses. Like I was viewing the world in high definition. The inside of my head buzzed and fizzed like I was about to short circuit.

I distinctly remember the solitary chime of the clock that rang out in Soho Square, and thinking the last time I'd heard the chime, he was still breathing. Still like me.

Chris was gone. The brother who was born in the same year as me, but wasn't my twin. Irish twins it's called. Born 11 months apart, stuck at the hip while we were kids, the one who used to take the flak for all my mischief.

In the after-shock, I felt like my arms and legs were riddled with pins and needles while my brain bounced around my skull like a pinball. It had only been a matter of hours since he'd died. I convinced myself that he could be kick-started back to life, like with a big iPhone charger for people. Surely there'd still be enough energy left just to give him a few per cent...

In the days and weeks that followed, there wasn't much room in my head for very much more than him. Death is devastating on all levels, but suicide brings with it an element of participation. Why hadn't I done anything to stop it? Why hadn't he spoken to me?

Just why?

We'll never know if Chris was mentally ill, depressed, or whether he just decided in that split second that enough was enough. But we do know that suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 and 49, beating road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I knew suicide in men was a problem, even before my brother plumped for it. In fact a couple of weeks before he died, I posted something on my Facebook page, urging people to be aware of the men in their lives; teenage student boys who might be struggling, unemployed Dads who might be feeling the pressure but bottling it all up inside.

But how aware was I of his despair?

Looking back, I knew something wasn't quite right. The softness had gone from him. Any sense of calmness had long since departed and he was a big angry ball of rage and frustration. I think he was angry at himself, but he could never admit that.

'It's not me,' he'd shout, 'it's everyone else.'

But maybe that was his cry for help, because he didn't know how to say it any other way, or didn't feel that he could.

None of us really know the true face of depression or mental illness, or what mask each of us wears. It can be someone simply grasping for an even base line, but feeling like they're trying to nail jelly to the wall, or it can be someone who looks like sunshine, because they're radiating all the light out, and getting dimmer inside. It can be a big ball of anger, or a small pool of tears; it can be all of us. It's hard for people to reach out, but it's even harder for men.

When a person commits suicide they are often so distressed and isolated, they are unable to see any other way out. They often give warning signs in the hope that they will be rescued, because they are intent on stopping their emotional pain, not necessarily on dying. And looking back, the signs were there. I had them in texts on my phone, in the memories of our last time together. Finger-pointing, blame and frustration. Threats, which I thought were empty. I'd tried to talk to him, but he either felt like I wouldn't listen or he just couldn't say what he needed to say.

One of the last texts I sent to him pleaded with him to stop being so angry and closed off.

'Chris, I've posted something on Facebook about people who get in bad situations and things just spiral out of control. You have three gorgeous kids, a beautiful granddaughter and you have YOU. You don't have to give up on yourself. You can get everything back on track. Stop being so angry at everyone. I love you and want my brother back. Please find some strength to get yourself back on track. This should be the beginning, not the end. If life begins at 40, grab it by the balls.'

He didn't make 40, he was two months short of that milestone and I couldn't help him.

It's too late for Chrissy, but it's not too late for other men stood on the precipice of a black hole just waiting to jump. Whether he was mentally ill, depressed or feeling overwhelmed, the fact was he didn't feel like he could tell anyone. Like a lot of men, he would have seen reaching out as a dent on his masculinity, and as long as society perpetuates this cycle, more men will see suicide as the only option.

We all need to stand together and show that asking for help isn't weak. It isn't shameful. We need to help reduce the stigma around depression, mental health and suicide, and reach out to the men who are suffering in agonizing silence.

In a bid to make even the smallest difference, I recently started working for a mental health charity. It's just baby steps, possibly only making a tiny indent into what is a massive problem, but I'm hoping to make what difference I can (knowing that it was you Chris, who helped make the difference to me).

Anna-Louise Dearden is a writer and also works at St Andrew's Healthcare, a large mental health charity in the UK.



Need help? In the UK, call The Samaritans free on 116 123. For more support and advice, visit the website here.