'My brother's suicide made me determined to get people talking about depression'
Trudi Lalor was left devastated when her older brother Alan died by suicide in 2010. Now, with the help of grief therapy, musician trudi has recorded a new song in his memory, which she hopes will help take the stigma out of living with depression, she tells Anna Coogan
'IT'S not a badness in people which stops them going up to someone with depression and asking them how they are feeling.
"I think they don't want to embarrass the sufferer, and feel embarrassed themselves, and my brother Alan would talk about feeling embarrassed when someone asked him how he was.
"Yet he would also feel wounded when someone crossed the road to avoid him. He would talk of the loneliness he felt, and how isolated he felt. He had no one special in his life, and for a while before he died he stayed over with my mum and dad, because even the noise coming from downstairs was a comfort to him.
"The change in Alan as a result of depression was profound. We had a great bond, because we were both into music. He moved out of home in Laois when I was nine or 10, and he would come home on the weekends on his motorbike, with whatever new albums he had bought.
"He was the life and soul of every party when young, and was always taking his guitar out and singing. He had loads of girlfriends and lots of friends who were similarly into music. I suppose you would have described him as someone who had a lot going for them.
"He was in his 30s when he began to suffer, and he began to become introverted. We could see he just wasn't himself and that there was a big decline in him, and he was diagnosed with depression and put on medication.
"The medication made him go from a slim and athletic young fella into an overweight and unfit man. I was always saying to him how he looked like he had lost a bit of weight because he found it so depressing to end up looking like someone who he didn't think looked like himself.
"I will always regret that there wasn't a bigger effort on the part of the mental health system to get Alan into talk therapy. He was referred to a counsellor but he said he thought they were nosy, and when he was persuaded to go back again, he was told there was a waiting list he'd have to go on before he could talk to anyone else.
"Alan just didn't seem to have the energy to follow it up. There was no shortage of people for him to talk to, we are a family of 11 children and we're always getting together for birthday parties, and he had mum and dad and some very close friends. But whatever issues he was dealing with might have been easier to talk about with a stranger and a mental health professional.
"Two of my sisters saw a story on the nine o'clock news about the Cork to Dublin train being delayed because of an incident on the tracks. Alan hadn't turned up for a slice of birthday cake in my sister's house, and she just got this feeling and rang my mum, who immediately went upstairs to see if Alan was in his room.
You watch people in films get bad news and how they let a cup of tea go crashing to the floor. My mobile fell out of my hand when I got the call.
"I had some horrible thoughts for a long time after Alan died, and about him being alone in the final few moments of his life. I don't want to minimise the pain of someone dying from something like cancer, but at least they have someone with them in the hospital during their final moments.
"Alan was alone after he decided that afternoon that he wasn't going to go home. He was 53. I will never ask for the details of his death, and I stood outside the Coroner's Court when the inquest was being held. I was struck by the fact strangers could walk in and hear about his death; I felt this was disrespectful to Alan's memory and to our family.
"I went over to the train driver when he came out and shook his hands. I told him that our family didn't blame him in any way for what had happened. He was crying and his wife was crying, and you could see the terrible toll it had taken on them.
"I went to grief counselling and found it immensely helpful. If we lived in the States it would be normal for me to go for grief therapy, but living here I feel I have to explain how it helped me through the despair and helplessness and anger you feel when someone you love commits suicide.
"I believe Alan's life would have been much easier if we were more open about our emotional needs, and more accepting of the fact that therapy is just one of the many things we do as we go through life.
"Myself and my mum, Philomena, a lovely singer, sang Beautiful Isle of Somewhere as a duet at Alan's funeral. There were over 2,000 people packed into the church, and many said we should record the song as a tribute to Alan.
"Mum has never been in a music studio before but at age 81 has become a real pro, and it's terrific that the song we recorded will be used by Amnesty International in its campaign against the prejudice and discrimination felt by many people experiencing mental health problems.
"Alan felt extremely low and alone at the time of his death even though he had a large family and friends. The loneliness caused by depression gets in on people. I hope this song brings some comfort to anyone feeling this way, and a realisation that people do care and love them, and do want to talk to them about whatever is troubling them.
Trudi's new album Home I'll Be is now in shops, and the single Beautiful Isle of Somewhere is available to view on YouTube and through the Amnesty International website www.amnesty.ie