Walking out at Parkhead for the first time in his career as a visiting Raith Rovers player was something Brian Graham couldn’t wait for.
When the Kirkcaldy side were drawn against the Glasgow giants in a League Cup tie over a decade ago, it was an occasion he hoped his older brother Daniel would be there to witness.
The pair grew up as passionate Celtic supporters but when Brian found out his brother wanted to be left alone in his mum’s house, the realisation hit the striker that he wasn’t well.
It was a moment that will stay with him forever. Graham lost his sibling a few months shy of his 40th birthday following his struggles with mental health and drugs.
“He got the support from us,” stated the Partick Thistle striker. “Obviously we tried to help him in every way that we could.
“You could see he had good days and bad days, but I remember when I realised he really wasn’t well.
“I was playing for Raith Rovers and we had a cup game against Celtic at Parkhead. My brother was a big Celtic fan, as kids we grew up Celtic fans and that was the first time I was going to play at Parkhead.
“I was excited, I wanted my brother to see me walking out at Parkhead but he was in the room with the light off and didn’t want to speak to anybody.
“That’s when I knew he wasn’t well because if he was, then he would have been buzzing to see me play at Parkhead.”
Daniel was previously sectioned after attempting to take his own life. His mental health troubles oscillated in the following years as his family did all they could to support and care for him.
When Graham and his father admitted him to hospital four years ago hoping he would receive the type of help he desperately required, Daniel was discharged within a matter of hours and sadly passed away the following day.
Speaking bravely for the first time as an ambassador for FC United to prevent suicide, a national campaign to help save lives, Graham opened up on his own personal experience and is determined to ensure other families do not suffer the same fate.
“You say there’s help there but in the wider community I don’t think enough gets done,” he admitted.
“Personally, I experienced it with my brother who tried to commit suicide in the house. My dad wrestled with him and managed to save him.
“He got sectioned, they let him out and they never really checked up on him. Then one night – he had his own house at this point – we went round to see him and mentally, he wasn’t in a good place.
“My dad and I eventually took him to the hospital. We were in there for a few hours and then they just discharged him. They let him go again.
“My brother wasn’t a saint, he had drug problems as well, but he was a nice person and he would give you anything if you needed it over the course of his life.
“But we lost him four years ago. His death will go down as an overdose but the day before he died he was in hospital.
“You could see mentally he wasn’t there and he was telling us ‘I’m done, I’ve had enough, I don’t want to be here anymore.
“I was asking the doctor and the nurses if he could stay in and they said no, they needed the bed. My brother died the next day.
“It’s good that there’s a charity for players and when players die by suicide, it’s horrible. However, in the wider community and for some players – it’s okay to speak out and get all the press but these people that are qualified need to do better for us.”
Graham reckons that further action must be taken to promote the issue but believes that by talking openly, the stigma that surrounds mental health and suicide can be removed.
He admitted: “This is a great charity and I really hope there is a change with this but one of the biggest problems is that there aren’t enough carers or bodies to support the pour souls that are struggling.
“That’s why one of the biggest criteria is probably to try and change beds; try and get them out as quick as possible to get the next one in. That’s not how it should be.
“These cases aren’t going to go away overnight. These people need regular care on a daily basis. They probably need a phone call every second day to check up on them. I don’t think things like that are getting done.
“Some people will say ‘oh, well he took drugs’ but I believe he did that because of the demons in his head. It will go down as an overdose, but I personally believe he died by suicide.
“The day before he died, I knew he was proving hard work because I had seen him. He was a bit cheeky to me that day along with the nurses and the doctors, which I get because he wasn’t mentally right.
“But these people are dealing with this daily and know how to cope with it, and they were happy to get rid of him and say, ‘I don’t want to put up with this carry-on anymore.’
“I think it is getting better in terms of people spreading the word and speaking out, but I still believe there are not enough people who will speak out because if they do, they probably feel a bit embarrassed.
“I remember at the time when it happened with my brother, I was a bit taken aback, a bit embarrassed. I didn’t want anybody knowing about it.
“If I’m being honest, that was probably selfish on my part because I was in the public eye, I didn’t want what happened to my brother to be out there, but as you get a bit older you realise when you get an opportunity like this, you just have to speak out.”
Graham recognises he could have done more at the time to publicise the issue and admits he will never gain a sense of closure when coming to terms with his brother’s passing.
However, he has made it his mission to ensure change does occur not just within football but in wider communities.
He said: “A short period after my brother died – this is going to sound a bit weird - I had a dream and he was in it. It was him apologising to me, saying sorry and the two of us were crying.
“I woke up in the middle of the night in floods of tears and was like ‘was that real?’.
“It was as if he was coming back to say, ‘I’m sorry for my behaviour’. It was as if we made up in that dream.
“It helped. There are some thing I’ll probably take to my own grave but I felt a bit of relief from it, I’m not going to lie.
“After I woke up crying, I went back to sleep and woke up the next morning with a wee smile on my face that that happened, so it did help.
“I did feel embarrassed at the time (of Daniel’s suicide) and I probably should have spoke out then. But now I’m a bit older and more mature and I’m further on in my playing career, I don’t care what other people think anymore.
“If I could help somebody get their family the help they need, that’s why I’m doing it.”
Graham continued: “With the support that we gave him as a family, there were times where he got better and you’d think to yourself he’s on the straight and narrow, he’s doing really well.
“Then you would see him a couple of weeks later and he was as low as a snakes belly again.
“You’re asking him what you can do to try and make things better, but I wasn’t qualified enough for that.
“I completed the Chris Mitchell mental health Foundation course and I’ve since gone into management with Partick Thistle women to try and help with that aspect of it and to make myself better if I ever had to deal with a situation where one of my players were struggling a bit with it.
“If we can help get this message out as much as possible and if it’s football related then fans will get involved.
“This could help spread the word by speaking to their colleagues at work who might not be interested in football and say ‘look at this, have a read of that. What do you think?’. It could make a lot of difference.”
*Brian Graham is pictured wearing the FC United to Prevent Suicide kit, as part of a national campaign to save lives. You can follow the team on Twitter: @_FCUnited.
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.