And now for something completely different. Today I’m going to post something I’ve wanted to for a long time, about an important, serious, but often ignored issue haunting Irish families – suicide. If you come here for the beauty and banter, you may wish to skip today’s post, I totally understand. However I hope that you will read, tweet, comment, or even just think about the issue. For some people, it’s a matter of life and death.
I have a lot of admiration for Ray D’Arcy, both for his broadcasting skills (The Den anyone?) and for his work raising awareness about mental illness in Ireland, particularly depression. He’s staple listening in the office every morning, and I’ve been very moved lately by his features on the hidden epidemic sweeping Ireland – suicide. He recently invited two families to bravely tell their stories about those stolen from them by suicide. What struck me about their stories, besides the tragedy and pain, was that no one knew what their lost loved one was planning, or they would have intervened. This seems to unfortunately be a common theme in many a loss to suicide.
One story in particular struck me to the core, that about a girl who pushed herself so hard to be the best at everything, put so much pressure on herself to perform, that the resulting anxiety and depression caused her to take her own life. I’ve been that girl – the perfectionist, always striving for the highest possible attainment, that when achieved didn’t even make me proud of myself, just make me feel OK. To have to achieve 100% to be normal is not a good benchmark to set for yourself, even when times are good and everything is working in your favour. So what happens when times are bad?
Dr. Harry Barry, GP and mental health expert, has also spoken with Ray, highlighting the devastating number of young men committing suicide every day in this country. The themes in their stories are common – lost job and/or long term illness, lost purpose, cannot provide for family, feeling worthless and a burden. The last straw, he explained, can be the breakdown of a relationship. When that’s the only thing keeping the man going, losing that leaves them with “nothing”. Dr. Barry couldn’t be more right, as my cousin experienced similar events over 10 years ago and chose to end his life. I was almost too young to remember, but what I do recall is people saying he wouldn’t be able to get into heaven. As a young girl taking adults’ words as gospel this scared and saddened me, but now it angers me. We have been under the thumb of the Catholic Church for far too long and just look what it’s doing to people – women forced to go through a terrible ordeal for medical terminations, those on the brink of ending their lives too scared to tell anyone lest they be reminded that heaven will be denied them, never mind the physical, sexual and psychological abuse too many children suffered directly at the church’s hands. These and more reasons are why I no longer participate in organised religion.
We’re taught to learn, work, cook, drive and more fundamental life skills from an early age. However we’re not taught how to express our feelings, support our peers and cope with the rocky road of life. In fact, most are taught the opposite: that you must always say you’re “grand” when someone asks how you are and that mental illness is to be feared and locked away in the local “Mental” (usually a Victorian era building, the subject of kids ghost stories and adults’ jokes). Alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling, depression, suicide – these are all symptoms of this societal disease called “stigma”. If 500 people (that’s 20 per county) died from a preventable cause which the government ignored as it raged, there would be uproar. We would have rallies, investigations, outreach to sufferers, opposition parties calling for the Taoiseach’s head on a spike. 527 people died from suicide in 2009. Where’s the uproar?
Ireland needs to wake up and start thinking critically for itself, instead of taking what was spoonfed to us by the church and state as correct. Did you know that DOUBLE the number of people in this country died by suicide last year than on the roads? We can’t turn on the telly without seeing an ad sponsored by the Road Safety Authority. So where are the ads promoting good mental health and telling people where they can turn in times of trouble? There are none, because mental health services in this country are fragmented and underfunded. The government will not allocate enough money to reform our broken health service, so the issue will remain ignored and Ireland’s children will continue to die, when they could be saved.
“But what can I do about this?” you think, “I don’t have money, time, or experience to give.” You don’t need them. All you need to do, is talk. Talk to your friends and family. Don’t judge them. Allow them to open up, share their feelings. Just be there. And allow others to do the same for you. Remember, a problem shared is a problem halved. And suicide is a long term solution to a short term problem.
If you are affected by suicide or depression, please talk to someone. Here’s some confidential, non-judgemental services you can contact anonymously.
Phone 24/7 365: 1850 60 90 90
Text: 087 2609090
1800 201 890
1890 303 302
TURN2ME – online support and counselling