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Yasmin Geddis: 'I had no idea that text would be the last one my brother would ever send me before taking his own life'

Yasmin Geddis, from Coleraine, tells Ivan Little of the anguish caused by her brother Zachary's suicide a year ago and how she's fundraising for an organisation founded in his memory to help other people battling suicidal thoughts


Helping others: Yasmin Geddis

Helping others: Yasmin Geddis

Yasmin with her uncle, Kevin Mailey, who is running the Belfast Marathon

Yasmin with her uncle, Kevin Mailey, who is running the Belfast Marathon

Yasmin with Zachary’s partner Tom

Yasmin with Zachary’s partner Tom

Helping others: Yasmin Geddis

The last message that Zachary Geddis ever sent to his adored sister, Yasmin, read: "I'll love you for ever." She was touched, but the words didn't strike her as particularly unusual because the two of them had always been close.

Tragically, however, within a short time of sending the message, Zachary was dead - a victim of suicide.

And Yasmin never got the chance to say goodbye to "the best brother in the world", who was also her best friend and who was studying fashion illustration at the University of the Arts in London.

That final message from London gave no hint that 20-year-old Zachary, who was also a model, had anything on his mind other than looking forward to an imminent visit to his family in Coleraine.

In the end, the homecoming was heartbreaking for Yasmin and her devastated parents, Terry and Louise, who organised Zachary's funeral after the Kevin Ball Repatriation Trust helped bring his body from England.

Now a year on from Zachary's passing, Yasmin is dealing with her loss in a selfless way as she tries to raise awareness of suicide and help people contemplating taking their own lives to banish the thoughts.

She's even given up her day job to concentrate on her mission, which is all about breaking the silence surrounding the scourge of suicide, which claimed 297 lives in Northern Ireland in 2016.

Yasmin has set up the Zachary Geddis Break the Silence Trust, and she's been giving talks in schools, as well as writing a blog and producing emotional online videos.

"I'm not a counsellor or a doctor, but I try to point people who need help in the direction of the mental health services," she explains.

"I also want to get Zachary's story out there to make people aware and realise that there's nothing to be ashamed about."

Yasmin was inspired to take up the mission after witnessing the outpouring of grief after Zachary's death.

"There were over a thousand expressions of condolence, and when I spoke at Zachary's funeral I spoke from the heart - the response was amazing," she says.

"What was really remarkable was how many people got in touch to say that they had lost loved ones to suicide as well, but they'd never talked about it before."

Yasmin is totally frank in her discussions about Zachary, who suffered from depression.

"He had been seeing counsellors since he was 16 and he also confided in me and my mum," she admits. "I would sometimes get calls and texts at all hours looking for help.

"But what was alarming was that Zachary was discharged from counselling on four separate occasions and we were told he wasn't allowed to get any more treatment.

"Just before Christmas 2015, we clubbed together to pay for consultations with a psychiatrist, but he also discharged Zachary."

The month before his death in March last year, Yasmin went to see her brother in London because he was having trouble sleeping.

"We had a great weekend," she says. "We went to the cinema, we had lots of sweets and I cooked dinner - and I held his hand until he fell asleep."

Zachary, who was an Irish karate champion (a second Dan black belt), never gave any indication that he was thinking about ending his life.

He was gay, had just found a new partner Tom Arnold and was Facetiming his family about coming to Coleraine for a month-long visit.

But he died in his halls of residence on the very night of his ostensibly upbeat call home.

The news was obviously a shock for Yasmin, but she experienced a delayed reaction. "I couldn't cry and it didn't really hit me for months," she concedes. "I did have night terrors and insomnia, though."

"The only thing that put a smile on my face was talking about Zachary. I had 20 great years with him and I still love to speak about him in a positive manner," adds Yasmin, who's a karate instructor in the little downtime she has from her commitments with her trust.

Yasmin says it didn't take her long to realise that the number of suicides on the north coast was a major cause of concern.

She's visited the families of many of the victims in the wake of their personal tragedies and she's keen to dispel the stigma associated with suicide.

"Many people I meet in the street don't talk to me the same way they used to," she says. "It's as if they're pretending that Zachary never existed."

What clearly frustrates Yasmin is the insinuation she's encountered that there's "something wrong" with the families of suicide victims. "And that is 110% not the case," says Yasmin, who has also discovered that some relatives have struggled to cope with the "strange looks" they receive in public.

"I think all those factors are some of the reasons why some families shy away from speaking out afterwards."

Yasmin believes her family did everything they could for Zachary, though she cautions: "We never thought that anything like this could happen to us, but now I am striving to make people aware that it could happen to anyone. You just can't tell.

"Not all wounds are visible. Just because Zachary was beautiful on the outside didn't mean everything was okay on the inside."

Yasmin says that her efforts in relation to suicide have assisted her of late with the painful grieving process, and she adds: "It makes me feel better to help people and it also gives me a sense that Zachary is still with me. He was very special and we were very, very close. He used to come shopping with me and he would tell me what suited me and what didn't.

"He loved his music, too. He was a huge fan of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and David Bowie."

Yasmin says her brother, who was 6ft 4ins tall, was excited about where his work as a model could take him. "He gave up karate because he wanted to concentrate on his modelling. He certainly had the looks and he did a range of jobs for magazines over here, but he had also been involved in a lot of quirky photo shoots in England," says Yasmin, who sees her brother's partner Tom regularly and who she describes as "one of the main supports in our lives... he's my best friend now".

Yasmin says she's been uplifted by the backing the trust has been given by the public in its fundraising efforts, which have shown they're not just about words, but big on action, too.

Friends and relatives are going the extra mile to raise much-needed money to support the Trust's work.

Zachary's father, Terry, and uncle, Kevin Mailey, are both training for massive fundraisers. Terry is planning to cycle 1,300 miles hugging the coast of Ireland over 16 days in June, and Kevin is running the Belfast Marathon in May.

He says: "It'll be my sixth marathon and my last one because I've just turned 60. I wanted to do something for Zachary, who was my sister's boy, my nephew.

"I did the Dublin marathon a few years back for a neighbour's relative who died after a deep-sea diving accident."

Another event the trust is behind is an attempt to break the world record for a million kilo deadlift this month.

And there'll also be a sponsored walk in Scotland, as well as talent competitions nearer home.

Last September, the winner of a beauty pageant, run in conjunction with a mental health charity in Londonderry, revealed she entered the competition in memory of Zachary.

Cara Hunter went to school with him and she described him as a "fab guy who loved the glitz and the glam".

Cara also produced a thought-provoking documentary, available on YouTube, which not only tells Zachary's story, but also tackles the suicide crisis and questions the ability of mental health services to deal with it.

Yasmin says she misses Zachary 24/7, adding: "He's my first thought when I wake up and my last thought when I go to bed and everything in between. My heart is in pieces because I am alone.

"We were always messaging back and forward and the last one he sent me was the one that said he would love me for ever with a heart beside it.

"I take that with me every day."

For further information go to www.zacharygeddisbreakthesilence.org If you are affected by any of the issues in this article, contact the Samaritans on 084 5790 9090, or Lifeline 080 8808 8000

Belfast Telegraph