Katie and Calum

“Calum’s final words were 'stay strong, stick together'. That’s something I’ll always live by.” 

Katie was in her early twenties when her brother Calum died by suicide in 2017, aged just 26.  

Growing up in the close-knit community of Cromarty, north of Inverness in the Scottish Highlands, Katie and Calum had a normal, happy childhood and even though life was busy, they still made time to catch up once they’d both left home – Katie to the Black Isle and Calum to Inverness.  

“Calum had a great job offshore, he had his own flat, car and a group of friends. When he died, it was a complete shock to us. It’s a huge trauma at the beginning because you find yourself in a situation that you had no idea you’d be in. It was lifechanging.  

“We had and still have lots of unanswered questions as to what happened at the time. The guilt you feel from thinking you might have missed something… you just feel helpless. They feel trapped in their mind and think this is the only option they have instead of asking for help.” 

After her brother died, Katie was left with overwhelming feelings of sadness, grief and trauma. Her support network had been taken away and she felt alone. However, understanding the importance of speaking to those closest to her about how she was feeling opened up conversations and she found strength in the realisation that everyone who was close to Calum was feeling a similar way, and that they could support each other.  

Katie’s also noticed a huge shift in how people speak about suicide and mental health. “It was five years ago, and the change between then and now is phenomenal. People are more open to speaking about it. The community of Cromarty where we grew up is home to just under 1,000 people and everyone was shattered by the suicide – it had a massive effect.  

“Before Calum, people didn’t really speak about it, and now we see both younger and older groups of friends starting conversations about mental health. As a family, we have very much spoken about Calum and the impact of his loss on our family to raise awareness. There should be no taboo when it comes to mental health and suicide awareness.” 

Katie has spoken about the impact of her brother’s suicide publicly, including on the Mikeysline podcast. Since then, people have reached out to her to share how it helped them speak openly about their losses if it’s something they’ve internalised.  

“One thing I’ve learned is that by speaking about it openly, you can encourage the wider community to reach out and start conversations, whereas in the past they may have avoided you as they didn’t know what to say or how to speak to you.” 

Katie’s younger cousins were only one and nine at the time Calum died. But due to the family keeping his memory alive, they speak as if they knew him. However, the time will come that they will learn how he died - and knowing how to have these difficult conversations is vital.  

Her advice for someone who wants to reach out to a friend or family member who has had a loss in their life to suicide is to remember that trauma is overpowering, and it can be raw at the start. Being able to talk to someone about how you feel is essential to help manage the grieving process, and even just the smallest conversation can make all the difference.  

“One thing that’s important is to keep checking in on that person. When it first happens, there is a lot of support and everyone rallies round, but after a time people have their own lives to get back to, which can leave you feeling quite isolated and lonely. If you’re someone that is going through that, know that you’re not alone and your feelings are valid. The grief will always be there, but it does get easier as time goes on. You just find a new normal.” 

As a nurse at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, Katie finds herself in a position where she can speak to patients about how they are feeling, but admits it’s difficult to know where to leave conversations if someone has been admitted with mental health problems. Deciding the right level of support for that person based on how they are feeling and acting at the time can be hard, and from a clinical perspective she doesn’t think there’s enough support available for mental health, particularly for young men.  

“My brother was a quiet, gentle soul. He was a perfectionist and could be self-critical, but there was never any outward sign to us about the extent as to how he was feeling. There needs to be more information and support available on how to manage negative thoughts and understand where they might come from, and also how to recognise these behaviours in someone else and know how to raise the subject.  

“Something that’s struck me in life is that no matter how busy you get, find the time to check in on those close to you. You don’t know how much both yours and the other person’s life can improve by nurturing relationships and looking out for each other. 

“If someone you know is feeling suicidal or low, small acts of love can make a real difference. Inviting them round for dinner, trying that bit more as they may be reluctant to reach out if they’re in a negative mindset. If you know someone is low, try and make a conscious effort, help them find a safe place.  

“Calum’s final words were 'stay strong, stick together'. That’s something I’ll always live by.” 

Katie has completed several fundraising challenges in memory of Calum, and recently raised £5,000 for SAMH to help provide essential mental health support services for people in Scotland.