Suicide: Time to talk
Richard Brown believes an epidemic of silence is contributing to the deaths of hundreds of Kiwi men each year.
The Timaru man's twin brother, Clint Brown, was 26 when he killed himself in 2008.
Clint had a history of depression and had attempted suicide as a teenager, Richard said. But his family didn't realise how much he'd been struggling in the weeks before his death.
"He ... hid everything from everyone," Richard said. "He wasn't very good at asking for help. And we knew there were problems, but didn't know to what extent, because he wouldn't talk."
Clint managed even to hide it from Richard, who'd been living with him until about a month before his death, when Richard moved to Timaru to become general manager of Petite Wine & Dine.
His brother was a "real Kiwi bloke," Richard said – a roofer who was the boss at work and who loved his ute, motorsport and having a beer with his mates.
It's men like that who often find it hardest to admit that they need help, he believes.
"Males don't talk about feeling and emotions," Richard said. "We talk about cars and beer."
In New Zealand the rate of male suicide deaths is more than three times higher than that of women.
Factors that contribute to the problem, according to information published by the Ministry of Health, are that men are less likely to recognise that they are depressed, are less likely to communicate that they are having problems, and are also less likely to seek medical care.
Richard found himself going down the same road in the months after Clint's death.
"It wasn't until the [one-year] anniversary that I realised, I'm not dealing with it," he said. "And then it was another six months before my sister dragged me to a doctor, because I wasn't going to ask for help – because Kiwi males don't ask for help."
Richard channelled his experience into the Movember campaign, an international project to raise money and awareness about men's health issues, including depression.
It's a lighthearted approach to a serious issue. Clean-shaven men register at Movember.com before November 1 and seek sponsors as they grow their best – or most peculiar – moustache through the end of the month.
"Our goal with Movember, as much as it is to raise money, it's to raise awareness," he said. "It's about why you're growing the mo.''
For Richard, it's a tribute to the brother and best friend that he lost.
"I'd rather he be remembered as this good guy who was stuck in a hard place," he said. "If he'd have asked for help, he'd have got through it."
According to the Ministry of Health:
- The rate of male suicides in New Zealand is three to four times higher than the rate of female suicides.
- In the most recent statistics available for New Zealand, the highest number of suicide deaths occurred in men aged 20-24. The second highest number occurred in men aged 45-49.*
- One in eight New Zealand men will experience an episode of major depression in their lifetime.
- Men are less likely than women to recognise that they have depression.
- Men are less likely than women to seek help for physical or mental health problems.
*Data from provisional statistics released by the Chief Coroner of New Zealand for July 2010-June 2011.
- © Fairfax NZ News