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Dublin: 18 °C Friday 23 August, 2019
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Lynn Ruane: 'Help for suicide prevention can be hard to identify - and even harder to access'

The independent senator writes about the barriers in suicide prevention when it comes to helping people with their mental health.

Lynn Ruane Independent Senator

COMMUNITIES THAT EXPERIENCE deprivation are often the communities that have some of the highest rates of suicides.

Often family and friends are the first responders to a suicide attempt. Heartbreakingly, families are often the people who will find their loved one after they have taken their own lives.

For the relatively short time I have been old enough to understand suicide, I have had to act quickly to save friends’ lives. It is not something we expect to experience at all, never mind more than once. Yet we do, over and over again.

Trying to get to my friend as quickly as the ambulance does, or having to hang up on a person you love who is losing consciousness, because I need my phone to call the ambulance, is one of the most frightening things I have ever had to do.

Thankfully on these occasions help arrived on time. Help doesn’t always arrive on time and sometimes the help seems hard to identify and even harder to access. As teachers, parents and peers we often don’t know what to do, or we are afraid of saying the wrong thing or overreacting.

Support and services

If we are the first responders, then it makes sense that communities that want to understand suicide and how to prevent it are provided with the support and services to do so.

Not as a replacement for services, but to complement good quality accessible services.

Suicide is a frequent presenting problem in health and mental health care and our services can sometimes respond in ineffective ways. Dr Eoin Galavan last month, in collaboration with my office, presented to the Oireachtas. He talked about topics such as the psychology of suicide and suicidal behaviour.

After we lose a loved one to suicide we nearly always hear the phrase that it’s “just so hard to understand” – and it is, but that doesn’t mean we can’t.

Eoin is a CAMHS-care consultant and has trained hundreds of mental health professionals, counsellors, psychotherapists and volunteers in working with suicidal individuals.

I believe we need to take this training out of the professional space and work with communities like Ballyfermot. After all, many in our communities will never even access a service to get support from trained professionals.

The fact that many people either don’t know how to access support or have had a negative experience of mental health services is a real problem. Addressing many of the reasons that we have such a high suicide rate has been a failure of successive governments.

Travellers and working class communities have felt the impact of those failures.

Devastation

I mention Ballyfermot, because I became aware of Warren Dempsey, who very recently lost his sister to suicide. Within weeks, there were more people in the area who died by suicide.

The surrounding community have been left devastated by the loss of the young women and the many other young people who have taken their own lives over the years. Warren decided to take the trauma his family have experienced and transform it into action. He shouldn’t have to, but he is.

Warren and the community have taken action to help prevent any more suicides. As part of a community-based response we have set up Helping Others More Everyday (HOME).

They will be hosting two events in September. The first will be a festival of hope,
The People’s Day will be held on Sunday 8 September. It will be held in Le Fanu Park, Ballyfermot from 11-6pm. They have planned a family fun day celebrating all that is good with life. There will be entertainment, face painting, sporting events, and services will be on site providing information on suicide prevention and awareness.

Chatting with Warren about his plans I was reminded of the street parties we always had every summer in our communities. The sense of community was more hopeful then and over the years as communities like mine felt the effects of inequality our community hope and spirit morphed into a collective grief and trauma.

Over 50 acts are performing on the day, from bands to dancers, and it sounds like the perfect display of community spirit in a time of pain. The People’s Day sounds like it will be the biggest street party, with the biggest purpose: to save lives.

Lynn Ruane is an independent senator.

If you need to talk, contact for free:

  • Pieta House 1800 247247 or email mary@pieta.ie – (available 24/7)
  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org (available 24/7)
  • Aware 1800 804848 (depression, anxiety)
  • Childline 1800 666666 (for under 18s, available 24/7)

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About the author:

Lynn Ruane  / Independent Senator

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