An initiative to tackle the stigma of mental illness among professional men was launched today after the suicide of a top property executive.

Former colleagues of John O’Halloran were marking mental health awareness week by holding a symposium to debate how to encourage people, often in high-powered jobs, to seek help when they experience a crisis in their personal life.

John O'Halloran 1

Mr O’Halloran, 63, above, a retired former managing director of commercial airport developer BAA Lynton, privately suffered depression for years and took his own life in March last year after being unable to overcome the grief of his wife Linda’s death.

His son Rob, 36, a banking policy manager, told the Standard: “It was a tragedy losing my dad. I think it’s fair to say he had a lifelong battle with depression, probably even before the days depression was acknowledged as a disease, as it’s rightly seen today.

“Very sadly we all lost my mum in 2012. She was the pillar of support that allowed him to get through some of his darker periods of depression. My hope for the symposium is that some good comes out of what was a terrible personal tragedy.”

The event is backed by property consultants CBRE, the British Property Federation and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ charity as well as many of the UK’s biggest property firms.

It aims to promote best practice in spotting and treating mental illness and ensure problems are recognised to improve acess to care and prevent others suffering in silence.

Organiser Howard Morgan, who worked with Mr O’Halloran, for 15 years, said: “The property industry has some particular characteristics. It’s predominantly a male-dominated industry, though less so than it was. Figures show that three-quarters of suicides are men.

“Men find it more difficult to talk about private matters. I was totally unaware that John had had mental health problems all the time we worked together. It wasn’t the culture to talk about these things. I think John was like many highly professional, highly competent people and was internally bottling up the sorts of internal challenges we just didn’t know about.”