Forest fan, Shaun Toomey, approached Nottingham Forest Community Trust after seeing our recent ‘It’s Tricky to Talk’ campaign. Unfortunately, Shaun knows only too well of the devastating effects mental health and suicide can have on a family and felt compelled to tell his story. One of three, Shaun is the middle brother to his younger brother Craig and older brother Mark. Describing them as a trio of brothers who were best friends, this all changed in July 2009 when Mark sadly took his own life changing their world forever.
Mark who is described as “a big character and the guy that people went to.” had a few personal struggles but was getting his life back on track for his three children. He had a fantastic job at White Arrow working his way up the ranks due to his hard-work ethic and loveable personality. From van driver to Manager he had just been offered a promotion to be in-charge of a whole depot and was on the face of it doing well. With the help of his brother Shaun, Mark had also settled into a new house in Bramcote just around the corner from his devoted mother, where his two young children Oliver and Jessica could visit. Mark also had an older son Josh who he adored. From the outside looking in everything was good.
However, one afternoon whilst on holiday with his family Shaun got a call from his younger brother Craig that would change his life forever. Unfortunately, Craig called him with some devastating news, Craig sadly told him ‘Mark’s killed himself’ Shaun explained “you just go into this numb… existence of you need to tell me that again, Marks dead?” Shaun and his family managed to fly home within 24 hours explaining to his two daughters aged 6 and 9 that their Uncle had been in a car crash as he couldn’t face telling them what had actually happened.
Shaun quickly learned that on that fateful day Mark had got ready for work as usual, laid out his clothes and packed his lunch but then unfortunately took the steps to take his own life. Worried when they couldn’t get hold of him, Mark’s brother Craig and his mother went to his house where they found him. They called an ambulance but it was devastatingly too late.
In terms of mental health, Shaun explained Mark “had took an overdose when he was much, much younger, I’m talking late teens” but Shaun says at this point in time his brother had moved on and had settled in his new house, he was seeing his children “from a mental health perspective we had no idea.” He explained that even when he split with his partner he was positive and he was having “sensible conversations that someone in that position would be having.”
However, Mark’s family soon discovered that not everything was as it seemed. During the inquest into Mark’s death they discovered that he had been taking anti-depressant’s for years. Mark approached his Doctor at the age of 16 explaining “I’m going through my exams it’s a stressful time and I’ve just found out my parents are separating.” he carried on taking them for 23 years, without his family knowing.
Looking back on what has happened to his brother, Shaun explained that he thinks the most important thing is speaking out and starting those conversations. He explained “I’d like to think the outcome could’ve been different but you know when you talk about that kind of trio of brothers – we were that trio of brothers. We drank together, we played football together, rugby, cricket, we were best mates. We lived as that kind of perfect world of mum and dad and three brothers. Naively I thought if Mark had a problem, he would’ve spoken to me.” He said that’s why it is so important to reach out to friends and family, just dropping them a message saying “how are you, let’s catch up soon.”
Shaun wants to stress that somebody struggling shouldn’t be ashamed to talk, “if you fall over and break your leg you get help – if you don’t have that conversation you can’t deal with it.”
Speaking on Nottingham Forest Football Club Shaun said “If you sit in The City Ground and we’re playing but there’s no action, you can hear that *whispers, we talk, 29,000 of us get together on a Saturday afternoon or a Tuesday/Wednesday night and the one thing we do really well is talk, so if you’re not feeling great, tell someone”
When talking about having a conversation with his two daughters about Marks death years later, Shaun explained how far society has come in the last 10 years and explained his intuitive eldest daughter understood it more due to the progressive conversations happening now, “The journey of mental health awareness in the last 3-4 years has come on a million percent. The charities are there it’s in the press, social media.”
Shaun ended with “That is my message to just talk, to the person next to you, talk to your brother, your sister, your mother, your dad. The fact that we’re raised awareness is so important, it’s more socially acceptable to talk about suicide……so talk!”
Shaun is doing a skydive on 30th August to mark his brother’s 49th birthday and to raise money for the UK young suicide prevention charity PAPYRUS, you can find out more and donate by clicking here.