THE sister of a “generous and loving” islander who took his own life believes isolation and a loss of "opportunity" during the pandemic, exacerbated his struggles.

Alice’s Mitchell’s 29-year-old brother Michael, a former fisherman, was found dead in his home nine days ago on March 23, the anniversary of the first national lockdown. 

Family and close friends gathered on Tuesday for his funeral on the Isle of Lewis, where he lived in Bragar, a village on the west side, close to his mother Dina and two other sisters Jodie and Sammy.

A recent report in the Lancet found that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on people with pre-existing mental health disorders is unclear but there is evidence that emergency referrals of people in crisis increased significantly after the first national lockdow. 

The Reverend Brian Casey, a minister in the Springburn area of Glasgow, said he had dealt with a “huge” number of suicides over the past year.

Mr Mitchell’s oldest sister, who lives in the city and is a social worker, says he had struggled with depression but says he became acutely unwell towards the end of last year.

She said: “Over the last year, he had been about to ready to sit his driving test but because of the lockdown he wasn’t able to. Then he broke up with his girlfriend.

"All the opportunities that he was trying to get going were falling apart.

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“I think he just felt totally stuck and couldn’t see a way out. He was just scraping through. I think we all thought, once this is over we can spend a bit more time with him.

"I don’t know what tipped him over or whether he just didn’t have enough left in the tank.”

The Western Isles alongside Orkney and the Highlands are know to have the highest rates of male suicide in Scotland.

From 2015 to 2019, Orkney had the highest rate at 29.2 men per 100,000 population, followed by the Western Isles at 27.1 and then the Highlands at 28.1.

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“Up here, suicide is just way too common,” said Ms Mitchell. “I was speaking to my sister and off the top of their head she was reeling off the young people in their twenties from Lewis who died. My brother had lost a couple of friends himself.

""It’s just been really obvious to us as well about how ashamed he was to tell us he was struggling. I think it’s very much a male thing. “

She said the sudden death of her brother, who was a keen guitarist, has devastated the family, including devoted grandparents Alice and Angus. She is aiming to raise £30,000 by September 2021, the month when Michael would have turned 30, to fund a new support network in Lewis for young men who are experiencing mental health problems.

She said: “My mother’s brain won’t let her accept it. My gran is just frozen. We have quite a big family and everyone is distraught.

“There’s absolutely no doubt that there isn’t enough mental health support here. You can’t just drive to another town to go to a service.

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(Michael with his family, from left to right: sisters Jodie and Alice, mother Dina and youngest sister Samantha with nieces Abbey (front left) and Kaitlyn)

“Michael had engaged with his GP and spoke very highly of him. Unfortunately for him, it just wasn’t enough because at the end of the day there is only so much that anti-depressants can do.

“When I told my mum I was doing this article I asked her what she would like to say and she said, if you have a loved one who is struggling, force that support on them because when people are depressed they push people away. It’s easier said than done though.”

Ms Mitchell  said she had watched a recent, BBC 3 documentary by the presenter Roman Kemp on male mental health which found that contributory factors for male suicide can be a feeling that they haven’t achieved enough in life.

“That’s exactly what my brother was going through. He felt he wasn’t getting anywhere," she said.

“He had worked as a fisherman which he quite enjoyed but then he had issues with his shoulder and he was struggling to do that work."

Research has also found that suicides in traditionally male-dominated jobs including farm, forestry and fishing, are seven times more likely than in customer service roles while they are highest amongst the unemployed.

Professor Rory O’Connor, who leads the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory at Glasgow University, has said efforts must be made "at the earliest of ages" to reform the idea of masculinity and what it is to be a successful man.

NHS Western Isles were contacted for a response.

To make a donation to the fundraising page click here 

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health or feeling suicidal, please don’t hesitate to ask for help by contacting your GP, NHS24 on 111, Samaritans on 116 123 or Breathing Space on 0800 83 58 87.