IN July 2018, I received news that my older brother Tariq had taken his own life.
It was a complete shock. Nobody saw it coming.
This is even more true since everything seemed normal at a family wedding just a few weeks before.
I often wonder if I could have done more to help.
It’s a question I’ll never know the answer to and one that always makes me feel guilty.
Unfortunately, our experience as a family is not unique.
Across the country, too many communities are being destroyed by suicide.
More than 5,000 people took their own lives in England in 2021.
Suicide is also the leading cause of death for men under 35 and men under 50.
World Suicide Prevention Day on Sunday will be an opportunity to reflect on the progress that has been made in overcoming mental health stigma.
But there is still so much to do.
This must start with a new suicide prevention strategy published by the government.
These measures are expected very soon and will ensure that every department has a plan to contribute to the turnaround.
But there are areas where we can go further.
I was shocked when, as Health Secretary, I learned that someone in the North East was twice as likely to take their own life as in London.
That’s why it’s so important to do more to support the most affected communities.
The 2019 Conservative manifesto rightly included a commitment to improving and unlocking the potential of every community.
Therefore, failing to comply with important mental health obligations, including the Mental Health Act, would be a serious mistake.
Ministers can also go further and ensure we have clear and ambitious targets to reduce suicides.
These goals also exist for many other health problems. So why should this be any different?
I know from experience that targets are broad and imperfect, but they can be effective in holding ministers and officials to account.
But the government cannot do it alone.
In fact, many of the recent advances have been driven by individuals, community groups and charities across the country.
Given this, it is worrying that so many groups face a precipice in March when their funding runs out.
In her autumn statement in November, the Chancellor should take the opportunity to expand support for charities.
One group I attended in Bristol was the Talk Club.
Founded four years ago, there are now 75 clubs around the world, offering space for conversations about mental fitness in pubs, cafes and private homes.
Every meeting begins with the question: “How are you from ten today?”
This group and countless other charities have a simple mission: talk more, ask more and listen more.
I wish I had known how my brother felt – and looking back, I should have asked him more often. I will never have this chance again.
But Sun readers do.
So call a friend this weekend and ask them how they’re doing – or how they’re feeling out of ten.
Let’s start a national conversation and see how much of a difference we can make.
This World Suicide Prevention Day, let us see how many lives we can save.