I used to have a brother. Illness took him away. Not the kind of illness you can see – cancer, heart disease, pneumonia; where the colour fades from your skin, organs fail and your body weakens. This was an invisible illness, one which paints a smile on the sufferers face even though they're crying inside. Eats them away from the inside out. Makes every day exhausting as it feeds on any positive thoughts and replaces them with negativity. A crippling darkness. Mental illness.
Unique in his charmingly arrogant way, Dan is the best brother we could ever have asked for. From sticking his tongue to the inside of the freezer as a kid (just to see if what he saw in cartoons was real) to losing a cat inside the wall of his flat only a few months ago - Dan has provided us with years of laughter as his boundless curiosity and 'act now think later' attitude got him into the craziest of situations. Recognised as one of the most intelligent engineers in his company, Dan was well respected by all of his colleagues in a job that he attained straight after graduating from Northumbria University with First Class Honours in Mechanical Engineering. As someone that should probably have owned shares in Wetherspoons and with a cider drinking ability we can only aspire to, we will miss his skill for making any time of the day a time for heading to the pub.
Two very different paragraphs, both describing the same person. My brother. The boy who, on the surface, loved life, had a great job, awesome friends and a loving family. The boy with lightning speed wit and a charming smile. The boy with a mental illness.
On the 6th February 2017, at the age of 25, Dan took his own life. Though we knew a little of his illness, we were powerless against it as Dan did his best to hide its full extent. There had been signs of struggle for years. Cycles of elated highs followed by blinding lows. Missed deadlines and sleepless nights. Dan refused to seek help, claiming he was just stressed with Uni and things would get better. There were times we would justify his unusual behaviour, obscure sleeping patterns and obsessive traits; passing them off as 'hormones' or 'just being a lad'. When the jigsaw pieces are presented individually, with weeks of smiles in between, it is almost impossible to see the whole picture.
“Suicide is the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK, with 76% of all suicides in 2014 being men”. A shocking statistic but one that, having been directly affected by it, is somewhat understandable. Dan was determined not to let anyone see his suffering. Determined that treatment would not impact on his life. He didn't want to be a body functioning on pills, a medically manufactured personality. After a brief moment of opening up, where Dan allowed himself to be helped and treatment began, instantly the doors were closed again. Strings of lies were told in order to convince us and the medical professionals helping him that he was 'fine'. Dan was never late for work, turned up and did a great job, continued to socialise with friends, developed his passion for engineering even in his spare time. However, behind closed doors, Dan was suffering under the weight of his illness. It is only now, destroyed by grief, that we are able to complete the jigsaw – begin to understand the depths of his internal torture and see just how much Dan was hiding from us.
Whilst we are left with the endless 'whys' and 'what ifs', we can only hope that by sharing our story we might raise awareness. Encourage people to talk – both those suffering and those close to them. Accept that it's ok to not be ok. Feel free to talk about how you feel. Consider the help being offered. Notice changes in behaviour and question them more thoroughly. We will never know if anything could've been done to have Dan with us today, perhaps some people are just too awesome for this world. However, we want people to be aware that it is too easy to allow a “successful life” to be the cover up for a mental illness. It's possible to 'have it all' on the outside and feel nothing on the inside.
I have a brother. He's in my memories and in my heart.
There are many organisations available to offer support for those suffering from mental illness or those close to them. Websites such as www.mind.org.uk and www.papyrus-uk.org provide many resources on mental illness.