Male suicide: 'His death was the missing piece of the jigsaw'

By Hamish Mackay
BBC News Online

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Statues have been erected in London to represent the 84 men who take their own lives each week in the UK

Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK - 84 take their own lives every week. A new campaign, Project84, aims to raise awareness and sees sculptures placed on the top of a London tower block.

"People say the wounds heal but you still have the scars," says Jonny Sharples, whose elder brother Simon, 36, took his own life in 2014.

"I remember when it happened. I was at home on my own watching a rerun of Match of the Day and I got a phone call from my sister.

"I was in tears. I went down to see her in Staines, where she lives, and then we saw my parents in Cornwall. It was Christmas, which made it more difficult.

"Simon adored Christmas, even in his thirties he would get up at five in the morning and wake everyone else up to open presents.

"It was difficult to be together [after his death], to look around a room and see he was absent."

Image source, Jonny Sharples
Image caption,
Simon Sharples took his own life in 2014

Jonny is helping to remember his brother through the Project84 campaign, set up by the charity CALM.

Eighty-four sculptures have been erected on top of London Television Centre, with each figure representing one of the men, each week on average, who ends their life.

The campaign aims to raise awareness about the prevalence and devastating impact of male suicide in the UK. And the fact that mental health issues affect people from all sections of society.

Jonny says of his brother: "He was a normal, level-headed and unremarkable in many respects. But to anyone who knew him he was a really special person. He was always smiling and making you laugh.

"He'd always give you an honest answer, would always give you a helping hand."

Away from friends and family, though, Simon - a father of one - was suffering. A year of upheaval saw him change jobs and move out of his Preston home. In December 2014 he took his own life.

Image source, Jonny Sharples
Image caption,
Jonny Sharples says Simon was the "archetypal older brother"

"It's only with the benefit of hindsight you knew he wasn't quite himself," Jonny says.

"When he was watching football or playing golf, doing the things he loved, he was distracted. He was not quite as smiley but was still enjoying himself.

"It's only with the knowledge that he did end up taking his own life that things fall into place. His death was maybe the missing piece of the jigsaw."

Where to get help

Image source, Getty Images
  • The Samaritans operate a 24-hour service available every day of the year on 116 123. If you prefer to write down how you're feeling, you can email at
  • Childline runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK on 0800 11 11. Calls are free and the number does not show up on your phone bill.
  • PAPYRUS is a voluntary organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal. You can call them on 0800 068 41 41.
Image source, CALM
Image caption,
Marcus Chapman (left) moved in with Nelson Pratt after knowing him for just a week

Marcus Chapman was 33 when his best friend Nelson Pratt, from Hampshire, and also 33, took his own life.

The two met on a snowboarding course in France and, after just a week, decided to move in together.

"Nelson was very old fashioned British gent, impeccably polite, moral and well-mannered but also incredibly talented," says Marcus. "He was very self-deprecating. He had the chance to be arrogant but chose to be the opposite."

Nelson had a successful snowboarding career and became a coach for some of Britain's Olympic riders.

He had a supportive and loving family, but as his friends began to settle down and have children he found himself conflicted.

"The stage of life he was at, a lot of us were settling down, getting married and having families and I think Nelson had a lot of different pressures," says Marcus.

"Balancing his snowboarding career with jobs back in the UK. There was definitely a bit of a wrestle there."

Image source, CALM
Image caption,
Nelson was a "popular, loved man"

Nelson sought help, however, Marcus feels he was "let down".

"Nelson went to see his GP, there was a waiting list for therapy and he was given an online course to do. Two days later he took his own life."

The experiences of men who take their own lives vary, but those left behind are unified on how society should prevent their stories recurring.

They say stigmas and stereotypes need to be abandoned and avenues for support must be opened up.

"The myth is that someone who takes their own life is weak," says Jonny. "I don't think for a moment my brother was a weak person. I think he was very strong.

"We need to create a society where men are comfortable to talk about how they are feeling in the knowledge that the person they are speaking to will offer them the best help and solutions they can."

Marcus adds: "It's about having those very early conversations, sometimes close family members are the hardest people to talk to. That's why things like the CALM helpline are so important.

"The only way I dealt with Nelson's death was to throw myself into his legacy and raising awareness.

"I don't think Nelson's family will ever fully recover from the hole that has been left.

"Nelson was such a popular, loved guy - a personality like that doesn't get forgotten."

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