When Jonathan Lee was 17, his older brother Simon tried to kill himself for the first time.
Then-aged 19, Simon jumped from the top of a multi-storey car park in Barnsley town centre, breaking every bone below his waist and many in his face. He spent six months recovering in hospital.
Jonathan recalls: “There was no family discussion afterwards; no real acknowledgement of what had happened. It was referred to just as ‘the accident’ and we each – my parents, my sister and I - tried to deal with it in our own way.”
Thirteen years later, in 2004, Simon tried again. This time he succeeded. Jonathan returned from a weekend away to his home in Barnsley to find Simon had let himself in and hanged himself .
Jonathan, who was 30 at the time, said: “Simon was two years older than me and we were very close. It’s likely that he was bipolar but he never sought medical attention; even ten years ago mental illness still carried a lot of stigma.
“Obviously it was a difficult time, but two months after he died, my girlfriend gave birth to our baby twins - there was no time to really deal with it, I was up to my elbows in changing nappies and sleepless nights.”
Jonathan, head of the tax and trust department of a Leeds-based wealth management company, believes that emotional suffering, when left unresolved, often drives people to find another outlet; in his case it was a creative outlet. Jonathan’s experiences of living with his brother’s illness inspired him to write a book, his third novel, which is released on Amazon UK this week. A Tiny Feeling of Fear tells the story of Andrew Walker, a successful businessman who appears to be a happy, well-adjusted man, with the respect and admiration of his colleagues - but behind closed doors, his private life is a mess.
Jonathan explains: “I think too many people live that way, always putting on a brave face, working side by side with people for years without letting them see the real you.
“So, in a last ditch effort to save his own life, Andrew Walker turns away from social convention and decides to be totally open and honest with all around him.”
The novel is written entirely in the first-person.
Jonathan explains: “This is the first time I’ve touched on suicide in my writing, it’s the first time I’ve felt ready to work through that. Simon and I were the closest of friends and those years between suicide attempts were tough.
“He had good times, when people couldn’t see the internal battle within him - he had friends, a job, he got married. But those who knew him best were always on red alert, because his ups were always followed by downs and he outright refused professional help.
“It was while I was away on holiday that he let himself into my house and took his life. At first, I was so angry with him, for doing that to me, for leaving me to find his body. But over the years the anger has gone and now I’m comforted to know that it was me he chose to come to, even at the end.”
So is Andrew Walker really Jonathan Lee?
“Probably,” he admits. “I’ve suffered with bouts of anxiety and depression myself. But I’m lucky to have my fiancee Nikki who I’ve always been able to talk very openly with about how I’m feeling.
“More importantly, Andrew Walker represents many people because life brings very difficult experiences and, as a society, we never openly acknowledge the suffering.
“Talking about our feelings is the only real way to deal with them, but people do not like to admit when they’re feeling depressed or wretched or anxious, and keeping things bottled up is what can lead to people getting driven to a situation, like my brother.
“I think the book addressed a lot of issues for me, as well as helping my children - who never got to meet their uncle - to understand what happened,” he explains.
“Children have a questioning nature. Annabelle and James are 11 now and, of course, full of questions. We’ve had frank conversations and discussions about it; I’m taking a leaf out of Andrew Walker’s book and want to teach them the importance of talking openly.”
And with that in mind, Jonathan has linked up with the Doncaster branch of the charity Mind, sharing his experiences.
He adds: “I don’t think enough people will hold their hands up and say ‘that character - I’m like that’ - and yet how many of us can relate to what he goes through?
“Mental health should not be taboo. It is a part of everyday life and society would be healthier if we were more open and supportive of it. Sometimes people just need to talk.”
Or, perhaps, to read A Tiny Feeling of Fear.
Visit ATFOF to order your copy.
l If something’s troubling you, call Mind’s helpline in Sheffield, staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on 0808 801 0440 for support. Alternatively, contact the Sheffield Samaritans on 0114 276 7277.