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World Suicide Prevention Day: Armagh woman whose brother took his own life urges others to speak up


Kieran Hughes from Aware with Helen Barr

Kieran Hughes from Aware with Helen Barr

Kieran Hughes from Aware with Helen Barr

The sister of a man who took his own life has pleaded with those who may feel suicidal to shake off embarrassment and speak up, as the world marks Suicide Prevention Day.

Sixty-year-old Helen Barr's brother David died in 2008.

He was a much loved 48-year-old husband, father, brother and son. The Armagh nurse says she feels that if David had reached out, there would have been so many people to take his hand.

David had suffered from depression for a short time prior to his death, but Helen feels that David had shame in his illness which is why he never talked about it.

“My brother had been a happy, fun-loving person,” she said. “We loved him very much and miss him every day.

“We did know he wasn't well, but he had learned to hide his symptoms, he was ashamed. I can understand how he felt that he couldn't get out of the dark hole he was in.

“Unfortunately, mental illnesses such as depression still have a massive stigma attached to them and people are fearful of speaking out about it. I just wish my brother would have talked to me about how he was feeling and not be ashamed of his illness, perhaps it would have been easier on him. I could have helped him through it.”

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Helen says his sudden death shook her family to its very foundations.

She said: "The impact of David's death shook our family to the core.

“My parents are elderly, they have never got over it. We were all just devastated, trying and comprehend why he did it; why he thought there was no one to help him; why he didn't talk to us. I felt totally numbed by it.

"There were so many unanswered questions, people try to look for excuses; people to blame. I found it difficult to understand why David took his own life and what was going through his head at the time, it was a massive shock to everyone.”

Helen urges anyone that is feeling low to speak to someone.

“If anyone is reading this and feels very low, I want them to please talk to someone.

 “Say it out loud, whether you can talk to a close friend, family member or GP.

"The hardest part is saying it out loud, but it’s important to make that first step in order to get the help needed to recover", she said.

Helen feels that if David had have known about organisations such as Aware Defeat Depression – a charity that supports those living with depression in Northern Ireland – his life may not have had such a tragic end.

Helen said: “There are so many people out there who can help you.

"Organisations like Aware. Don't be embarrassed, don't feel shame. You are probably standing beside someone who has felt the same way as you. You can be helped. There is light at the end of the tunnel. You don't have to suffer alone.”

Professional footballer Liam Coyle knows what it is like to suffer depression. The former Derry City FC legend battled the illness after being told his career was over at the age of 22 because of a serious knee injury.

“When I was in my early 20's I had my life planned out,” he said. “When it didn't happen like that it was devastating. You feel as if you're sinking lower and lower and there's no way out.

“At the time nobody told me I was depressed. It wasn't talked about, I thought I would get over it. But I knew I wasn't right. I was drinking too much, not sleeping and was in bad form all the time. That went on for 18 months, although it seemed like an eternity. I had a couple of bad days where I felt I just couldn't go on.”

Liam said talking about it with his family helped him cope.

He said: “I spoke with my Mum, a lot.

 “She assured me that this would not last forever, that I will feel better. That kept me going.

“I would urge people who are going through this at the minute to know that help is out there. There are so many places available, counselling, doctors, places like Aware who do amazing work.

"They are there to help you. No one should feel bad about feeling down. You do not have to suffer alone, you are not burdening anyone with your feelings. There are so many people holding their hand out to you, reach out and take it.”

Siobhan Doherty, Chief Executive of Aware, said depression and mental illness are still so stigmatised.

She said: “This makes people reluctant to talk about it, particularly men who may not feel they are able to open up as much as women.

“In recent years we have seen an increase in the number of men visiting our Support Groups and seeking appropriate help. We have also seen a significant number of males attending our new Mindfulness programme, which is clinically proven to help reduce stress and anxiety.

“It is important that people know there is help available for them. With the help of organisations such as Aware; people can get the help they need to recover from depression and other mental illnesses.”

Liam Coyle, alongside another Derry City FC legend Felix Healy, is supporting the Aware Mood Walk – to raise money to support more people living with depression - in Derry this Friday, September 11,leaving from Ebrington at 6.30pm. Registration for Mood Walk is £10 and is open now. Participants will receive a Mood Walk pack – including a Mood Walk t-shirt. For more information and to register visit www.aware-ni.org/moodwalk or call 028 7126 0602.

For more information on Aware, log onto www.aware-ni.org. Aware can be contacted by telephone on their Helpline on 08451 20 29 61.

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