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'We say 'we need to talk about mental health in Ireland' - while looking the other way when people scream for help'

Marise Gaughan writes about her father’s suicide, and how she copes with mental health issues. On World Suicide Prevention Day, she asks what we can do about suicide in Ireland.

Marise Gaughan

IN 2014 MY father killed himself. He drowned himself – the coroner ruled it death by misadventure.

Every single warning sign was there with my father. He talked about dying constantly. Happy people don’t kill themselves, and he was unhappy for so long I don’t think he was every going to get himself out if it.

He didn’t have the tools to get himself out of it. I watched my father gradually lose himself, destroyed by his own mind.

In the final years of his life, he seemed to lose all sense of reality. He became a stranger. When he died it was still a shock, but it was a very expected shock.

Sometimes I feel guilt

Some days I feel sad he doesn’t exist anymore – that my living, breathing father is just ash in a grave and a name on a tombstone. He never gets to babble down the phone to me again after the latest GAA game.

He never gets to wreck my head about how great Elvis was. He never gets to make me laugh again.

He told me the first joke I ever heard: “A three-legged dog walks into a western bar, and he says – I want to know the man who shot my paw”. I used to hate that joke. I still do, because it’s a shit joke. I miss him telling me it though.

Sometimes, I feel guilty. Guilt for being okay. I feel bad for not feeling bad enough. My dad killed himself and it didn’t destroy me. I don’t think about it every day. I am made of 50% him, shouldn’t this hurt more?

Other days, I feel angry. At myself, for not helping him. At him, because he didn’t help himself. At this world, that made my father not want to exist anymore.

At our society, that only wants to have a conversation about mental health after the person has died. Why don’t we seem to give a shit until we’re writing the obituaries? We mourn Robin Williams but laugh at other celebrities that suffer from mental health issues.

“We need to talk about mental health in this country,” we say in one breath, while looking the other way when people scream for help. “Not now”. Why is mental illness only a tragedy after you’ve killed yourself?

‘I have his neediness, his humour, his selfishness, his lips’

He had tried to kill himself before. I was 14 and it was the night before my Junior Cert History mocks. I don’t think I will ever feel heartbreak like I did in that moment. 

I thought to myself: Why did he do this to me? Why would he want to die? I remember making a promise to myself that evening, that if I ended up being like my dad, I would never have children and a family and inflict that pain on them.

I see my father in almost everything I do. I have his neediness, his humour, his selfishness, his lips.

I have his mental health issues. I have seen close to 10 therapists over the past 14 years. I have been on and off medication more times than I care to recount. I have looked down the barrel of my existence and wanted to die.

I have tried to kill myself. Any time I have gotten out of it, it’s come back. It has always come back. Some days it feel like a never-ending uphill battle, that I am never going to win. I think of that promise I made to myself the night before my history mocks. “You are your father’s daughter” is a whisper that burns through my brain.

People view suicide in different ways. It’s a tragedy. It’s the coward’s way out. It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It’s selfish.

I don’t know what is right. I don’t think we’ll ever truly figure it out.

Suicide is not a natural thing. It’s not something we’re programmed to do. I think that’s why we can’t really understand it. We’re trying to find reason in a thing that lacks it. It’s the side effect of mental illness, and mental illness is an incredibly ugly, senseless thing.

It’s not poetic or poignant, like how films and books can show it to be. It can be annoying, and draining, and relentless. I wish mental illness produced something else. Instead of death. Maybe gardening. He’s terribly sad, so he’s planting orchids.

I really don’t know the answer to our country’s problem with suicide and mental illness. I do know that the hardest thing you can do is save yourself. Drag yourself out of the mental abyss. It’s not beautiful and it’s not romantic. It’s not exciting, even. It’s almost as boring as jogging. Worst of all, it’s not permanent.

You have to do it over and over and over again. It’s still the best thing I’ve ever done – not dying when I have wanted to die.

I don’t get to save my dad, and even if he was alive that would be true.

We cannot save other people. We can only try and save ourselves. I hope I never stop trying.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, which aims to raise awareness around suicide and bring about action to prevent people taking their own lives. Marise Gaughan’s new comedy show, Drowning, opens at the Comedy Cellar at the Dublin Fringe Festival club from 17 – 22 September. Visit here for tickets.

If you need to talk, contact:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.ie
  • National Suicide Helpline 1800 247 247 – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie – (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

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About the author:

Marise Gaughan

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