Former DJ writes book about his experiences living with mentally ill brother
Mental illness caused Hui Yiu-pun's brother to commit suicide. The former DJ has written a book to help other families with similar struggles, writes Elaine Yau
Hui Yiu-pun, a former DJ at Commercial Radio, vividly recalls the day his mentally ill elder brother killed himself about two years ago.
Hui's brother, Hui Yiu-tung, flew into a violent rage and began hitting their father, so police were called to their home in North Point to bring the situation under control. It wasn't the first time something like this had happened.
"Ever since he was diagnosed [with early psychosis] at the end of secondary school, his condition had been unstable. When I was in Form Six, he struck my parents, so I called the police. He was sent to the mental ward for a month," says Hui.
"That day, he dragged me down from my upper bunk bed and tried to hit me. The noise brought my parents into our room. My dad tried to hold my brother but he hit back.
"Knowing I was his target, I left the flat in my pyjamas and tried to call my sister. My mind was in chaos and couldn't recall her number, and called my brother-in-law.
"After the police came, I got dressed as I had to go to work that morning. As I was hitching up my trousers, there was a loud bang.
"I thought he might have thrown the fridge or bookcase out the window. But it was my brother. The police were still in the living room and my parents were crying hysterically."
Yiu-tung was driven to make a fatal jump by delusions that filled his mind with negative thoughts. He was constantly suspicious, thinking that people were out to harm him.
He thought people on television were badmouthing him behind his back.
Although they were never close, Hui says he tried to get to know his brother before he died.
"He was six years older than me. Unlike my big sister who took good care of me, he was aloof. I had been afraid of him since childhood as he had quite a violent temper even before he developed the illness. We were never friends," he says.
Hui's eyes were opened after reading a booklet published by the rehabilitation centre where his brother had a place in a sheltered workshop. Hui had been invited to contribute a prologue and was shocked to read that his older sibling took part in activities for the mentally disabled.
"He was asked about his experience. From his answers and photo in the booklet, I knew he didn't enjoy any of those activities. I felt sad after learning this because my brother wasn't mentally handicapped and should not have been grouped with those who were," Hui says.
"He spent eight hours in the centre every day for four years. Until then, I never thought about what he actually did there. I just felt relieved that he was being taken care of. After writing the prologue, I wanted to try to understand him more.
"I never saw him as a responsibility of mine. [Helping him] was never an issue on my mind. But since he died, I no longer have the chance to do that. It's too late," he says.
Yiu-tung had lost touch with reality and suffered from symptoms that made it impossible for him to retain a stable job and social life.
He topped his school in Form Three. But as the symptoms began to emerge a year later, his grades dropped and he failed to finish his sub-degree programme.
"He lost concentration and became forgetful. He would have hallucinations and hear things. He used to lose his ID in Macau and get sent back to Hong Kong by police. No one in the family knew anything about early psychosis then. My parents even had rituals conducted for him," Hui says.
"When he was first struck by the illness, many of his secondary school classmates visited him. But as the years passed, he lost contact with all of them. He didn't have a single friend. He couldn't hold a job for long as he couldn't stand pressure."
In the final few years before he jumped to his death at the age of 37, Yiu-tung was reduced to a reclusive depressive who lost his appetite. "After he fell ill, we didn't go on any family trips together," Hui remembers.
"But in 2008, after I completed my masters in intercultural studies, our family went to Shanghai for the first time. He still chatted casually with us then. After that, he stopped eating snacks and lost weight.
"Thinking back now, I think the weight loss was related to depression. He stopped going to restaurants with us at the weekend and hid in his room most of the time. Later, we didn't even share dinner together.
"He finished eating within five minutes and left the table immediately. In the two years before his death, he didn't say anything at all," says Hui.
Now a freelance writer, Hui volunteers at the Early Psychosis Foundation to help support recovering patients and their families.
"I was invited by psychiatrists to give a talk. I learned more about the condition after my brother's death. Before I just knew about it as somebody living with a patient suffering from the condition," he says.
Writing the book has been a cathartic for Hui, but he also hopes the book will encourage families attempting to manage a loved one with psychosis.
"I want to tell them not to suppress their unhappy feelings," he says. "It's natural for family members, who are exposed to their frequent outbursts, to see them as problems, instead of human beings with feelings.
"Although their mental problems might never be solved, family members should not avoid them. We should give them unconditional love.
"If I could turn back the clock, I would share more of my life with him," he says.