The silence surrounding suicide can be deafening – but two South Galway sisters who lost their 16 year old brother have spoken bravely about turning the tide of suicide and overcoming the stigma and taboo that surrounds the subject.
It’s now widely acknowledged that suicide is an epidemic in this country. It’s believed that last year, nearly 1000 people took their own lives – this figure is over 40 percent above official recorded statistics.
That’s an average of between two and three people per day losing their lives to suicide, and out of that number, 80 percent will be men – with males aged 15-24 the highest risk category. To put these statistics in context, 189 people died on our roads in 2013.
This figure reduced from a high of nearly 400 people in 2005 – and in no small part as a result of major targeted road safety campaigns.
Maura and Louise Geoghegan who hail from Ardrahan lost their 16 year old brother Kevin to suicide in September 2003. Kevin’s death was not the first tragedy to befall the family; the girl’s mother Kathleen had passed away from cancer when they were quite young.
However the siblings along with their father Sean had absolutely no idea that anything was bothering Kevin who had actively been making plans for the future. He had bought a car and was looking forward to turning 17 so he could get it on the road.
Maura recalls her teenage brother as ‘a kind and caring person with a very gentle nature who always had a smile on his face. He was very outgoing and had lots of friends; he brought joy to wherever he went. He was fond of his family and the land. He spent a lot of time on the farm with my father. He was always willing to help, especially if it involved driving a tractor!’
She says nobody had any inkling that there was anything wrong. The 31 year old nurse is firm in her belief that her younger brother didn’t comprehend that his actions would be so final.
“Kevin was full of life. He had the whole summer planned out. I honestly believe that my brother did not think his actions through, he was a very impulsive person, if he got an idea into his head he had no patience for waiting around or thinking it through, he just acted.”
Louise says, for her, Kevin’s death was like a bad dream. She could not believe that following her mother’s passing, that the family’s lives were being torn apart for a second time. The 29 year old Nurse asserts that nobody should have to suffer the loss of a loved one through suicide, that it’s the worst type of grief imaginable.
The reason she has agreed to speak publicly on this issue is solely in the hope of helping others and breaking down the wall of silence around suicide. She has a direct message for anybody contemplating taking their lives to ‘just please, please think of the devastation you leave behind’.
Louise knows from her experiences that losing a loved one in itself is almost unbearable but says the questions as to why a person takes their life which arise following a death by suicide are extremely hard to cope with; the seeking of answers that no one can give is painful beyond imagining.
“The questions will always be there but it’s something we as a family have learnt to live with. Everyone who has lost someone to suicide deals with grief in their own way and has their own story.
“Personally I want people (who are left behind) to know it’s okay not to feel ok and you don’t have to fight it on your own. They can reach out. There is plenty of help available,” she says.
Her older sister Maura too believes that it’s easy to become bogged down looking for answers to questions that no one can answer. She says she had to unleash that process as it was too difficult and she eventually she had to let it go and move on past wondering why.
Louise poignantly outlines that as a coping mechanism, she tries not to think about how Kevin died, but by the way he lived his life.
The 29 year old nurse uses a moving analogy to describe the anguish.
“Grief is like a rope. It can trip you up at any time. You have good days and bad days; you never forget but you learn to move on. I think of Kevin first thing in the morning when I wake up and last thing before I go to sleep and talk to him all the time.
“After his death I made the conscious decision to find strength to overcome the grief. To overpower the sadness wasn’t easy. I discovered that the only thing that helped me even temporarily was focusing on things that would make me happy. I would do whatever I could to keep me busy and distracted”.
Maura attended some group counseling with people who were also bereaved by suicide which she personally found very helpful.
“It was easier to speak to others that really understood what I was experiencing at the time. It’s amazing how much a listening ear can help.
Thankfully today through the hard work of charitable organisations such as Console, Pieta House and 1life, there are much more services and phone lines available to offer support.”
Maura who also works as a nurse undertook some fundraising work for Console, organizing two walks which she found to be a hugely positive experience.
“It was rewarding on many levels. The numbers that turned out from the villages around South Galway and North Clare were truly amazing. I feel an event like this achieves so much. Getting the youth together, raising awareness about Mental Health and Console and the work it does.
“You get people talking; those who have been bereaved by suicide share their story with others while walking, many people shared with me. It’s amazing how these kinds of events benefit people and help break down some of the stigma surrounding this issue,” she says.
Maura who now lives and works in Australia finds the aforementioned stigma around suicide hard to deal with and says she is disgusted at our Government, for not prioritising mental health and not seeing the urgent need for a major transformation of our services.
“The absence of a credible campaign and advocacy voices in mental health reform cannot be understated. The number of deaths each year continues to rise yet our government fails to address it and act on it” she says.
It was revealed at the end of last year that The National Office for Suicide Prevention- a HSE agency tasked to assist in the prevention of Suicide- failed to spend a third of its budget in 2012. The NOSP spent just €5 million of its €7 million fund. The director of the agency said the under-spend was as a result of a serious delay in finding someone to lead the organization.
The position as head of the NOSP was left unfilled for most of 2012. If this is indicative of our Government’s attitude to preventing suicide we are in serious trouble. It is clear that unless a coherent plan is put in place, suicide figures will unfortunately continue to rise.
Suicide helpline 1life revealed last year that it was struggling to cope with 99 contacts a day, amounting to more than 33,000 pleas for help each year. Pieta House the support organization set up to aid the prevention of suicide and self harm – which has just opened its first centre in the West (in Tuam) – now has a total of eight centres across the country.
In 2012, Pieta House helped more than 3000 people via appointment based services. If you need help, pick up the phone, it’s free and the charity does not require either a GP referral or a psychiatrist’s report.
There is no shame in saying you have a problem with your Mental Health.
How losing a loved one to suicide changes forever your vision of life
BY MAURA GEOGHEGAN
Losing somebody through suicide is like anything in life – you don’t truly understand it until you experience it.
The day my younger brother died, my life ground to a halt and it remained that way for a very long time. I was lost and disconnected with the world around me, friends, work, colleagues – even my family, my whole world was turned upside-down.
The first year was a blur; eventually I found inner strength to live again but this time looking at life through different eyes.
Friends didn’t understand my absence from friendships and I found it difficult to rebuild some of those relationships. It took me years to find contentment, happiness and confidence in myself again with support of amazing friends and family. As for immediate family they too were on their own path but we supported each other along the road which helped lighten the load.
Every time I hear of a suicide at home (in Ireland) regardless of whether I know the person or not it really upsets me. I am honestly disgusted at our government, for not prioritising mental health and not seeing the urgent need for a major transformation of our services. The number of deaths through suicide continues to rise each year yet our government fails to address it and act on it.
Mental health issues have always been taboo. In the past people were locked away in institutions and medicated. Our society today remains too reliant on medication for treatment and not on dealing with the underlying problems.
We need a different approach. Mental health should be discussed from at an early age. Growing up in the 80’s we never discussed our problems or feelings – when things got difficult, you just put on a brave face, smiled and got on with it. It was an ”it will all go away” kind of an attitude.
To not let on to others that we are weak or struggling was and still is (in the main) unfortunately our culture. That was the way most people were brought up in Ireland.
Children today need to be educated to speak openly about their feelings and learn to become aware of themselves as both physical and mental beings, not just to focus on the physical.
A program needs to be rolled out in schools, to demonstrate it is ok to talk about feelings and what is going on in your mind. We need to lift the lid, to ask ourselves and others if we are okay – like you would speak to an acquaintance about the weather.
Children must be thought to express their feelings openly and feel confident speaking out when they face struggles, obstacles and challenges and to understand that it is ok sometimes to be not ok and it is also ok to ask for help. If you fall and cut your knee you would ask for a plaster, if you have something wrong with your mind you should similarly be able to ask for help.
We need to incorporate mental health awareness in all aspects of our lives and not be afraid to address the situation. We also must become more aware of others in our lives, those in our day to day circles – at work, at school, in our clubs and societies like the GAA.
There is a need for focused campaigns on taking care of our mental health and being more proactive and not waiting until you are depressed anxious and stressed to get treated. Focus on becoming self aware looking inwards and asking who am I, how do I feel about myself, and have I become the person I want to be?
Skilled experienced professionals are required to teach us the tools necessary to build the confidence to discuss mental health issues without stigma attached and feel comfortable and confident doing so. Regular small group gatherings, coffee mornings, lunches, as long get people get together talking then these are the steps towards change. Let’s get talking Ireland.
When you’re feeling down and believe that there isn’t any hope for you that life has deliberately handed you difficulties while you watch others around you enjoying themselves, there is hope. The truth is no one is immune to problems being thrown their way. When there is obstacle you feel you cannot manage – stay strong, stay positive as hard as it may seem, we all have the strength inside us -trust yourself.
‘Confront the dark parts of yourself and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing. Use the pain as fuel, as a reminder of your strength’ -August Wilson
Death is a permanent. Those that are left behind must deal with unbearable grief, heartache, anguish and misery. They have to try and cope with the vacant space that remains as a result. Don’t give up on you and on your life .you have every reason to live, we only get one life to live, LIVE IT.
The authors have requested that a donation be made to Console in lieu of fees for these articles.
Boil water notice issued for Barna area
A boil water notice has been issued for the Barna area for health protection purposes
The areas affected are Barna Village, Truskey West and Truskey East, Barr Aille, Fermoyle, Ballard and along the Connemara Coast Road as far as Furbo, and on the Barna/Galway Road as far as Silverstrand.
The notice has been put in place due to issues with disinfection of the water at Tonabruckey Reservoir.
The notice affects approximately 2,300 people supplied by the Barna section of the Galway City West Public Water Supply area.
Customers in the area served by Tonabrucky Reservoir will notice increased levels of chlorine in their water supply in the coming days as we work to resolve the issue.
Vulnerable customers who have registered with Irish Water will receive direct communication on this Boil Water Notice.
Irish water, the City Council and the HSE will monitor the supply and will lift the notice when it is safe to do so.
In line with HSE Covid-19 advice and the requirement for frequent hand washing, Irish Water advises that the water remains suitable for this purpose and boiling the water is not required.
Councillors back bid to ban city centre parking in Galway
From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Councillors have unanimously agreed to ask Transport Minister Eamon Ryan to limit parking to residents only in the city centre.
Pedestrians in the city are being treated like second-class citizens, according to the Mayor, who said cars continued to get the priority on Galway’s streets.
At a meeting of the City Council this week, Mayor Colette Connolly (Ind) said the city had come to a standstill in car traffic, and pedestrians and cyclists were suffering the consequences.
“At junctions, why am I a second-class citizen in my own city as a pedestrian? It rains in Galway for 300 days of the year, but I am a second-class citizen when priority is given to motorists.
“It’s always the pedestrian that waits,” she said, hitting out at the length it took to get a green light to cross at pedestrian crossings.
One way to reduce the number of cars in the city centre would be to limit parking to residents only in the city centre, said the Mayor.
In a motion she proposed, seconded by Cllr Mike Cubbard (Ind), councillors unanimously agreed to write to the Minister for Transport to demand he pass the necessary legislation to enable the Council to do this.
The Mayor said residents were “sick, sore and tired” of people parking where they wanted when they visited the city and said despite a desire to introduce this measure going back almost 20 years, the Council was hamstrung by national legislation that prevented them from proceeding.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Planners approve homes for ‘cuckoo fund’ investor
From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The green light has been given for the construction of 345 apartments at the Crown Square site in Mervue – the majority of which will be put on the rental market and operated by a ‘cuckoo fund’ for a minimum of fifteen years.
Crown Square Developments, which is owned by developer Padraic Rhatigan, has secured permission from An Bord Pleanála for the ‘Build to Rent’ development, with four blocks ranging ranging from four to nine storeys in height.
There will also be a neighbourhood facility with a gym, a primary care medical centre with pharmacy, a ‘working from home’ lounge, six shops, a games room and a creche.
There will be 240 two-bed apartments, 86 one-beds and 19 three-beds, all of which will be specifically for the rental market and not available to purchase.
A breakdown of the apartments shows there will be 240 two-beds; 86 one-beds and 19 three-beds.
To meet social housing requirements, the developer plans to transfer 35 of the apartments (20 two-bed, 10 one-bed and 5 three-bed) to Galway City Council.
A total of 138 car-parking spaces have been allocated on the lower basement levels of Crown Square for residents, along with shared access to another 109 spaces and another 13 for use by a ‘car club’. There will be 796 secure bicycle parking spaces to serve the apartments.
The Board has ordered that the apartments can only be used as long-term rentals, and none can be used for short-term lettings.
Under ‘Build to Rent’ guidelines, the development must be owned and operated by an institutional entity for a minimum period of 15 years and “where no individual residential units shall be sold separately for that period”. The 15-year period starts from the date of occupation of the first residential unit.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.