Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland woman Sinead Doherty whose brother took his own life wants to end suicide taboo

By Brett Campbell

A young psychology graduate, whose brother took his own life when she was just 10 years old, has called for an end to the taboo surrounding suicide.

Sinead Doherty (21) graduated from Ulster University earlier this month and has recently started working with mental health charity Inspire.

In January she started volunteering with Aware NI and is now a facilitator at the charity's support group in Carrowdore, Co Down, but her passion to help people who battle mental illness stems from family tragedy.

Her brother John, then aged 21, ended his own life on December 28, 2005, leaving the family devastated.

"It's such a taboo to talk about suicide, but it's so important to remember the person and celebrate their achievements," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"The more I found out about him as I got older, it made me feel so proud to know that he was my brother."

It wasn't until her teenage years that Sinead started to properly deal with the tragic loss, as maturity came hand-in-hand with profound questions.

"It was a huge struggle for my mum, dad and three siblings, but I didn't fully comprehend the enormity of it," Sinead said.

"Up until then, suicide was just a word my mum had used to explain how my brother died."

But asking questions came with a warped sense of guilt.

"It was like opening a can of worms, I had to grieve all over again - it opened everything back up and brought it all back for my family," she explained.

"But someone had to answer my questions."

Eventually Sinead accepted there "is never going to be a satisfactory answer". She said: "The only person with all the answers isn't here anymore, accepting that was the hardest thing."

The mental health campaigner described how at one point she blamed herself and warned that guilt can be the number one reason people affected by suicide struggle so much to talk about it.

"It's so easy to blame yourself, you are constantly asking yourself, why? What could I have done? What did I do?" she explained.

"Birthdays and anniversaries are the most difficult times and those questions always resurface, it's something you always have to battle with - even now, after all these years."

The guilt was only exacerbated by her need to talk about her beloved brother.

"It was frightening because I didn't want to upset people, I didn't even want to say his name in case it made my mum cry," she said.

"But she was so open and I will always remember her telling me: 'It's okay to cry, you miss him and that's fine'."

The inquisitive teenager discovered that her brother was an "amazing hurler" who played for his home county.

She also found out that the talented tradesman, who had been working for his dad's kitchen company at the time of his death, had planned to set up his own joinery business.

"He seemed to have his head screwed on and knew what he wanted out of life - he had everything going for him, that's what made it such a shock," she explained.

"When you look at someone and they have their whole life in order it doesn't mean they are okay, it's often the people you least expect.

"It's difficult to help people because you don't know what you are looking for, but it's so important to let people know they can talk and to make them feel safe, but every individual is different and not everyone will want to talk."

While Sinead acknowledged that there were other factors, she said John's death put unbearable strain on her parents' marriage and they separated two years after he died.

"Mum and dad dealt with it in very different ways, it really got to my dad," she added. "He's able to talk about it now, but it took him a long time to get there."

If you or someone you know is in distress, call Lifeline in confidence on 0808 808 8000

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