real life

'I lost my brother to suicide. 3 months later, I got a devastating call.'

This post deals with the topic of suicide.

88 days ago my beautiful, loving, kind, caring and altogether wonderful brother took his life.

Suddenly, unexpectedly and wholly tragically. He was my 'person' in life, the one I turned to for everything, the executor on my will, trustee for my children, my friend, my support, my constant in a world of uncertainty.

My brother was the guy you turned to. He was the one with the answers, the calm voice of reason, wise well beyond his years, practical with advice and willing to drop everything to connect. He seemed to 'have it all'.

The call on Saturday October 21, 2023, to tell me he was missing will stay with me forever. The horrific 28 hours flying back home. The call two days later that he had been found. The shock. The horror of it. The absolute disbelief. I don't know I will ever get over that. I will never forget it. But I also won't let it define him. He was so much more than the way he died. It will not be his legacy. I also hoped beyond measure that I wouldn't get another similar call.

But I also know from having worked in mental health for over 20 years as a practice manager in psychiatry and psychology practices, that his death wasn't going to be isolated. I know that given the suddenness and shock of his suicide, others would follow. I know that the press coverage and public nature of it would be detrimental to others.

Watch: Let's talk about mental health. Post continues after podcast.


Video via Mamamia.

It is called 'the Werther Effect' or more commonly known as ‘copycat suicides’. It has been studied in celebrity deaths from suicide and the contagion effect that these have on society. No, my brother wasn't a celebrity by society's standards, but to those of us who knew him, he definitely was.

On Thursday last week, a mere 75 days later, a dear friend of his did the same. A mentor to him, someone he admired and looked up to. A gorgeous man full of love and kindness and creativity in spades. He had a beautiful wife, loving family, supportive friends all left behind. Someone I took for granted would always be there, just like my brother, gone. He had told friends that he had struggled with his mental health but that now he was 'OK'.

It has to stop here. The contagion is real; the pain is unbearable. Asking, 'Are you OK?' just isn't enough. OK is not enough. We need to stop hiding behind OK. It's up there with 'fine' as a description of how you are travelling. We need to start asking people the question we really want the answer to, 'Have you thought about killing yourself?'. Yes, it is confronting. Yes, it is forward and bold but the alternative is too hard for those of us who have to deal with the fallout from not asking.


So, I am asking every single one of you who reads this:

Have YOU thought about killing yourself?

If your answer is 'yes', which if people are honest, will be quite a lot of you (1 in 5 people have thought about suicide in their lifetime) - know that you are not alone now, or ever. I am sorry. My heart aches for you and I understand where you've been or where you are. Shame will tell you to keep quiet and not admit it, but shame does not serve you.

My next question is, 'Why didn't you act on those thoughts?'.

This answer gives you your 'powerful protective factors'. These are normally family, friends, children, responsibilities... these are the things you hold on to now, in this moment or the moment that dying seems an option. It may be as simple as you need to finish the book you are reading or you haven't quite finished a job around the house, it might be a friend waiting to hear from you, a meeting to attend - whatever reason you didn't then, look for a reason now.

For the next minute, and the next. Focus on that reason. Jot it down, think of another. Talk to anyone around you. Make a phone call. Until you get the help you need, hold on for one minute and the next and go until you get help and there is a lot available.

Even saying the words out loud can break the mental cycle. Suicidal thoughts, anxiety and depression love darkness and talking about it brings it into the light. They struggle to survive in the light. Hold that tiny glimmer of why you won't die so that you can make it to the next minute of the next hour of the next day of the next week. It will be worth it, I promise.


Night time is worse than day time. This is also true. Your prefrontal cortex shuts down at night. This is the area of your brain that controls executive functioning and rational thinking. Sleep on it. If you can't sleep, turn a light on and wait until morning. Remember, these thoughts love the darkness. Bring light in. Wait for the light or turn it on, literally. 

You may not have any plans but let me tell you, you are safe from your thoughts. You are bigger than your thoughts and you CAN control them. Take a breath. And then another. Conscious breaths.

I will never blame either of these men for taking their lives. It is like blaming someone who died of a heart attack for dying. Many who do die by suicide have no previous outward symptoms of mental illness akin to those who die from heart attacks who have no previous signs of cardiac illness. Sometimes people don't know how unwell they are until it is too late. Some do, but many don’t. Catastrophic heart attacks happen all the time, so do catastrophic brain events. These events can and do happen suddenly and unexpectedly. They can take even the person by surprise. I will forever be sad that this is what they thought was the necessary way to end that pain though. There are so many other ways.


Listen: We Need To Talk About Burnout. Post continues after podcast.

What we need to collectively do, is remove the stigma around suicide. Not only the act itself, but the thoughts so many people have about taking their lives. I repeat, 1 in 5 people think about this.

In my lifetime we have moved cancer from being something you privately discussed with your GP to one of the most researched illnesses in the world. People have gone from talking about cancer in hushed whispers to sending stool samples in the mail, regularly having boobs squashed for mammograms, rectal examinations and pap smears. All pretty confronting but necessary for early detection of what was a taboo illness.

 We have to start talking frankly and honestly about what is going on in people’s minds without shame being the undertone or a part of the conversation. My hope is that also in my lifetime, suicide is as openly talked about as cancer and just as much research and study go into stopping it taking so many precious, valuable lives.

Telling someone with mental illness not to think about suicide is like asking someone with a cold not to sneeze or cough. It is a common symptom of the illness they are suffering. Like a cold, not all symptoms are the same so no, not everyone with depression or anxiety or any other mental illness will think about suicide, but many will. 


We only have a matter of minutes to stop someone dying by suicide if they have made the plans and are ready to execute them. Literally minutes at that point. Very few people are there right at that time. I know I couldn't be there for my brother. I have reconciled that. Many people who die by suicide don't actually want to die, they just want relief from the acute pain they are experiencing in that moment. I am just so so sad that this is the pain he was in and I didn't and couldn't know. I also never asked the question, 'Have you thought about killing yourself?'.

What I won't forgive myself for though, is if I don't reach out to everyone I know and tell them that I know, I KNOW, someone else is going to do this and there are ways to prevent it.

What we can do is to be there now before the plans are made. Before the plan is executed. We can ask the questions of each other, and ourselves, to keep the scourge of this tragic act from affecting more lives. We can compile our lists of powerful protective factors and write them down, share them, talk about the need for them. When someone tells us they have thought about killing themselves or dying being an option, we respond with kindness and compassion free from judgement or shame or shock. We stand alongside them and offer our time and our kindness so that they are not alone.

I never, in all my days, wanted to speak about my brother in the past tense. Every one of the past 88 days has been horrid, to go through that forever seems unbearable. I will though, for my girls, my partner, my niece, my sister-in-law, the sunshine, the spring leaves, gardenia scent, the books I still want to read, the smell of rain, beach days, french onion dip and Jatz, whales on the horizon, belly laughs with close friends, gardening, the meeting tomorrow, the meeting next week, spontaneous snuggles with my girls, the smell of their skin... the little things and big things that are my powerful protective factors that aren't going anywhere.


Talk the hard talk and ask hard questions because the alternative is a level of awful that is far harder than you can imagine. If not for yourself, for everyone else around you. They will help you see the light in the darkness and more than anything, they want to. They don't want to live a life without you in it. And trust me, you don't want a life without them.

I miss my brother. I will miss him forever. He was the best. I just wish he wasn't in the past tense...

If you need a book to look for reasons to stay alive, I would highly recommend Reasons to Stay Alive for you or your friends. Podcasts that are also helpful here and here. 

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your GP or health professional. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14, beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. In an emergency call 000.

Feature Image: Getty.