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Pieta House to open suicide crisis centre in Galway

“We were in a fortunate position that we weren’t getting anything from the Government” – Joan Freeman, CEO.

Image: Cathal McNaughton/PA Archive/Press Association Images

“WE WERE IN a fortunate position that we weren’t getting anything from the Government.”

As Pieta House expands and announces that it is to open its third suicide crisis centre of excellence in Galway, its CEO and founder Joan Freeman told TheJournal.ie that the charity’s saving was its dependence on the public.

“If we had been dependent on the Government, we could be cutting our services right now. Instead we are expanding and taking on more staff,” she said. “It is incredible.”

Located in Tuam, the third centre of excellence will be the organisation’s first operation in the west of Ireland.

“We have achieved what we had only hoped for – that people in the community will take ownership of Pieta,” continued Freeman, who believes the centre will employ at least four or five therapists, receptionists and administrative staff shortly.

The Bishop Street premises which will house the centre needs repair and a number of unemployed and employed local tradespeople have committed their time to transforming it into a suitable space.

The internal work on the building is due to start in about five weeks’ time. “We’ve been promising to come down here for a while,” explained Freeman, “but we weren’t sure about the premises. This couldn’t be better though. It is on a street with lots of roads leading to it so we are in the heart of the community.”

She says the neighbours have wholeheartedly agreed to the project and the building will be customer-fitted for counselling, with five to six counselling rooms.

The Secret Millionaire

Businessman and philanthropist John Concannon has been the driving force behind the 18-month fundraising campaign needed to make the new project feasible.

Activities across Mayo, Roscommon and Galway have seen local people raise close to the quarter of a million euro target. Concannon described the support from the local communities as “extraordinary”.

Freeman added that the Government’s decision to use the €35 million allocated for mental health services this year to offset the HSE’s budget deficit is “further proof that we all need to come together as a community in the fight against suicide”.

She called Concannon, who has also starred in RTÉ’s Secret Millionaire, a “local hero” and said the centre would not be a reality without him. “It really is his day. As well as the two men he has working with him – John Joyce and Michael Ryder. Their determination has made this happen.”

However, the fundraising does not stop here. As 80 per cent of its funding comes from public donations, Pieta House relies on the public to raise its day-to-day running costs. Annually, that could be up to €250,000 per centre.

“That is not much when broken into three counties,” explained Freeman. “€75,000 per county – that is 75 businesses or farmers investing €1,000 per year. That makes it sound more doable.”

The demand for Pieta House’s services continues to grow across Ireland. In the first six months of the year, there was a 40 per cent growth in the number of people attending Pieta House in Limerick or Dublin. The age groups that saw the biggest increase were men aged 26 to 44 and men aged 45 to 64.

Commenting on the figures Freeman said, “Although this increase is encouraging, we still find that men are far less likely than women to seek help, particularly those in the under-25 age group. We urge people to contact us if they believe that one of their family members or friends may be in difficulty.

We believe that mental health is a basic human right and we want to reinforce the message that communities need to embrace those in suicidal distress.

“I hope the success of John Concannon’s campaign against suicide in the west will inspire others to come together and make a positive difference in their own areas.”

Although critical of the Government’s decisions to cut mental health funding, Freeman says her organisation does not particularly place itself in that category.

“We try to show people that suicide can happen to anyone. Although we are not particularly affected by Government cuts in the area, it is still unbelievable that the promises were broken. It is always mental health that is cut despite it being the most important aspect of a human being’s life.”

Since being established in Lucan in 2006, Pieta House has helped more than 8,000 people. It is currently planning to open more centres in Roscrea, Kerry and Cork.

Pieta House is a free service and can be contacted at 01 601 0000 or mary@pieta.ie. It runs two centres of excellence in Limerick and Dublin, as well as two outreach centres.

The Samaritans can also be contacted at 1850 60 90 90 or jo@samaritans.org. Other helplines include TeenLine Ireland 1800 833 634, Console 1800 201 890 and Aware at 1890 303 302.

More: Samaritans to receive new freephone number from next year>

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