Sajid Javid has urged men to speak out about their mental health as he spoke publicly for the first time about the loss of his brother, who took his own life.
The health secretary said he still wonders if he could have acted to prevent his brother’s death, and spoke of his “deeply personal” mission to prevent suicides. Javid’s brother, Tariq, 51, took his own life in a hotel near Horsham, West Sussex, in July 2018.
“We learned afterwards that he had a physical health problem that he hadn’t told anyone about,” Javid said. “And if we had just known, if he had talked to us, perhaps we could have done something,” he added. “Maybe I could have made a difference. And I guess I will never know the answer to that.”
Suicide is the biggest cause of death in men under 50 and about three-quarters of deaths by suicide every year are of men. Javid said that despite greater awareness in some communities there remained “a stigma around talking about mental health issues”, adding: “And we have to get the message out that it doesn’t matter what culture we come from. All of us at some time of our lives can have a mental health challenge and there is nothing wrong with that. The most important thing is to tell someone, to speak to others and to seek help.”
Losing his brother changed the way Javid interacts with friends and family, he told the Sunday Times. “I make sure I make time for people and ask them how they are feeling.” Javid said he became worried during the pandemic when “a close family friend” developed severe mental health problems.
“Although he didn’t use the word suicidal, I was worried about the signs I was seeing and I absolutely insisted that he got mental health support. At first he was very reluctant but eventually he did and now he is in a much better place and I am not sure I would have done that before this tragedy happened to my family.”
Javid, 52, added: “I am blessed with four wonderful children – three who are young adults now – and I talk to them much more now about their feelings. Of course there are mental health professionals, but there is a role for all of us in this.
“If there is anyone thinking about what they can do to help, the number one thing is to talk to your loved ones and your friends and ask them how they are feeling. But don’t just ask them the question in a way that they will nod along to – ask them how they are really feeling and take your time.”
Speaking at the London headquarters of the suicide prevention charity Papyrus on Friday, Javid said a refreshed suicide prevention plan was being developed, as well as better services for bereaved families and research to understand the causes of suicide.
“We must treat suicides with the same urgency that we treat any other major killer,” he said. “I’m determined to make a difference on this issue, and one of the ways we’ll do this is by publishing a new 10-year suicide prevention plan. This is something that is deeply personal to me – there are too many families that are left incomplete, and too much potential has gone unfulfilled.”
The long-term plan for suicide prevention is seeking views from the public, but only 19% of respondents so far have been male, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.
In 2018, the West Sussex senior coroner, Penelope Schofield, ruled that Tariq Javid had taken his own life. The inquest heard he had left two letters to his partner, telling her to “carry on and enjoy life”, before he booked a room at a hotel near Horsham.