Lifting the Stigma Associated with Suicide Championed by Local People
For many people the need for mental health services does not cross their minds until they, or a loved one are in crisis. At this point having never required such services before they find themselves looking for information and support in a world where people are not open to discussing the issue. The stigma that surrounds mental health and suicide is ingrained in Irish society based on historical reasons. This stigma needs to be challenged and the best place to tackle this is at a local level. On Wednesday 11th of April one such event was held in Clonmel.
A public information evening entitled “Lifting the Stigma” was organised by Mr. Joe Leahy, a member of the Irish Association of Suicidology and public representative in Clonmel. Joe has been involved in raising awareness of mental health issues in South Tipperary for a number of years. With the current changes underway in the provision of services he felt the time was now right to organise this event for the people of Clonmel.
The meeting was well attended and those present heard from a number of speakers who provided information on what services were available locally and how to identify the warning signs of someone in crisis. The meeting chaired by Mr. Joe Leahy was opened by the Mayor of Clonmel, Cllr. Darren Ryan. Cllr. Ryan thanked Joe for organising such an important event and spoke of his own experience as a public representative meeting with families affected by suicide. Cllr. Ryan also expressed his gratitude on behalf of the people of Clonmel to the members of the Carrick on Suir River Rescue for the work they undertaken on a voluntary basis when a tragedy occurs in the local waterways.
Mr. Dan Neville, T.D. and President of the Irish Association of Suicidology spoke about the levels of suicide in Irish society and the stigma that prevents people seeking help. In commenting on the mental health facilities built in the Victorian era, Deputy Neville stated that if one had to attend similar facilities for general medical problems there would be a public outcry. Deputy Neville encouraged those present to call on their national and local public representative for improvements to mental health services. Ms. Helen Ellis, Self-harm Liaison Nurse, South Tipperary Mental Health Services, spoke about the care available to anyone presenting at an accident and emergency department having self harmed. From the initial assessment of the patient on arrival, follow up care is provided in the form of a psychological assessment, referral for therapeutic intervention or self help information. Ms. Ellis also spoke about how crucial the role of the family is in supporting someone in crisis.
Mr. Sean McCarthy, Regional Suicide Resource Office, HSE South provided information on a number of projects which were underway in the south were local organisations in County Wexford and Waterford City had come together to develop local suicide prevention action plans. Mr. McCarthy encouraged the development of a similar partnership approach for the Clonmel area. Mr. Michael Egan, Founder of Living Links a bereavement support service spoke of the unique grief which a family / community experiences when someone dies by suicide. How, unlike other deaths, those bereaved by suicide suffer from guilt and intense shock in the search for answers to understand why their loved one chose suicide. Finally Dr. Caitriona Crowe, Consultant Psychiatrist, South Tipperary Mental Health Services, identified the warning signs for those at risk of suicidal ideation. Dr. Crowe also dispelled some of the myths regarding suicide such as “talking about suicide will only make the situation worse”. When we know from international research that talking about suicide provides an opportunity for those in crisis to discuss how they feel, and ask for appropriate help and support.
Feedback from the audience was very positive and a number of areas were highlighted as requiring particular focus for example, support for clergy in ministering at a funeral of someone who has died by suicide, support for separated/ divorced fathers and action to address low cost sales of alcohol.
Meetings like this one held in Clonmel bring communities together to discuss their issues and look at how they can address these issues at a local level. By working at a local level we collectively improve our lot as a society nationally. This can only be achieved by local champions such as Joe Leahy in Clonmel and the many other community leaders that have the courage to organise such events. On behalf of the members of the Irish Association of Suicidology, I would like to thank them for their courage. To anyone interested in hosting a public meeting in their community I would like to offer the support of the IAS in organising such an event.
L-R Back row: Dan Neville, TD & President of IAS; Micheal Egan, Living Links, Cllr. Loe Leahy, Member of IAS; Sean McCarthy, Suicide Prevention Officer HSE South East
Front row: Helen Ellis,Self-harm Liaison Nurse; Cllr Darren Ryan; Dr. Catriona Crowe, South Tipperary Mental Health Services