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'I don't want any parent to experience what I did': Taxi man's crusading mission against suicide

Following his son’s death in 2008, Dan Connolly is dedicating his life to help others in a similar position.

Dan Connolly Dan Connolly and Joe Leahy Source: Garreth MacNamee

THE PHONE AT Dan Connolly’s house rang at 9.30am on a Saturday morning in 2008. His partner answered.

“There’s a man on the phone for you,” she said and Connolly somehow knew his son was no longer with him.

Dan’s son died by suicide. Now eight years later, he’s on a personal mission to make sure parents don’t have to go through what he did. Dan is a member of TaxiWatch Clonmel, a service by drivers who have been trained to watch out for certain behaviours that can be warning signs of suicide ideation.

It was raining hard in Clonmel when TheJournal.ie arrived in Clonmel, Tipperary. The streets were filling with people enjoying their few drinks before Christmas. Driving over the bridges, Dan recalled the night that changed his life forever.

“I didn’t think there were any warning signs. I had spoken to my son a short while before he took his own life. At the time, I thought there wasn’t a bother on him. I know now that there were so many but I didn’t know what to look out for. But now he’s gone and he’s not coming back. Every day, I think about my son.”

SafeTalk

Thankfully, it’s a quiet night for TaxiWatch on the night TheJournal.ie went out with them.

There are now 18 drivers in Clonmel who are part of the group. Every driver must complete what is known as a SafeTalk course, which is run by the HSE. It teaches people how to talk to those who are distressed and/or suicidal. Over 300 people have completed it in the Clonmel region since the start of the year.

20161215_181405 TaxiWatch logo Source: Garreth MacNamee

TaxiWatch is being run alongside C-SAW, an open house based in Clonmel, which urges anyone feeling unwell to come in and a have a chat.

It was opened by retired garda detective Joe Leahy (pictured at the start of article).

Since April, Connolly tells us that he has “13 saves”, a description used among the drivers about separate incidents where their expertise is required.

The boot of Connolly’s car contains a high-powered torch, a pull-rope used to help people in water and a high-vis jacket.

But the most important piece of kit in Connolly’s arsenal is not the €300 torch capable of shining a light kilometres away but a packet of cigarettes he keeps on him which he considers the most important.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

“When you’re in this crisis situation, the main thing is time. You need time to talk, to empathise with people, to try and get through to them. If someone smokes, even if they don’t, you offer one and it buys you three or four minutes to have a chat and see where they’re at. Those minutes can be the difference between life and death.”

As the night progresses, we stop at an area where one of the drivers saved a young man. When someone in Clonmel goes missing, there are two places people turn to instantly; gardaí and TaxiWatch.

“We have 18 drivers looking for someone straight away. We can cover more ground than the guards, who do a great job. But we just send out a group text to the drivers with the details of the person and away they go. We’ll drop everything and go looking. That’s what we do.”

The taboo of suicide is still prevalent in Clonmel, according to Connolly. It’s still spoken about in hushed tones, whispers in the pub and snide remarks down the local shop. But he believes his persistence in talking about mental health and discussing suicide is breaking down that stigma.

Satisfaction

“Every little by little, that’s what we have to do. The support we have received in Clonmel has been phenomenal. You get the odd few people calling you ‘Suicide Taxis’ but you ignore them. They haven’t a clue what’s going on.”

As he finishes his shift, Connolly describes the level of satisfaction TaxiWatch brings to him. Although his son his gone, he is making a difference, helping those see that there is a way back from the darkness, a way out that does not involve suicide.

“It give me a sense of satisfaction of course. There are some people who are going to be sitting down to Christmas dinner this year that might not have been there if TaxiWatch wasn’t going. So, for me, I do it because I know it helps. And that’s enough for me.”

If you need to talk, contact:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • 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)

Read: ‘People say ‘how are you depressed, you’re a footballer?’ But you only live the life at the top’ >

Read: Pieta House calls for ban on children being admitted to adult-only psychiatric units >

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