Teens shine a light on the long shadow of suicide

A GROUP of teenagers turned Kilkenny’s City Hall into a sort of living room on Saturday afternoon, complete with sofas, rug and lamps.

A GROUP of teenagers turned Kilkenny’s City Hall into a sort of living room on Saturday afternoon, complete with sofas, rug and lamps.

Their aim: to raise awareness about suicide and to let people know that if they are affected by depression or suicide, they are not forgotten and there is help available.

The response they received was, in a word, powerful. Passers-by stopped to chat to the teens and often told of their own experiences of knowing someone who had died by suicide, and even of their own feelings of depression.

The young people in turn gave them a chance to be able to talk about the subject that is often taboo, and handed out information on places where people can seek help.

The theme of the event was “Bringing the Light,” so the scene was decorated with lampshades and with bright yellow paper wrapped around the pillars of City Hall.

Their aim was to bring a bit of light onto the subject, to bring light into people’s lives and to lighten the load that too many people are carrying.

They also had messages about the dangers of mixing alcohol and depression, with half of the suicides in Ireland each year linked to alcohol in some way.

The event was filmed by the Young Irish Film Makers, the result of which will be shown at a free seminar hosted by Lifeline Kilkenny this Friday in Butler House from 9.30am to 1pm.

The eight young people who organised Saturday’s event, aged 15 to 18, are members of the Ossory Youth-based Kilkenny Peer Education Guerrillas (KPEG) group, whose mission is to raise awareness in the areas of mental health, sexual health and drugs. On this occasion they were marking World Suicide Prevention Day, which was Monday.

They also held a memorial service on the Parade, with words of memorial and prayer from representatives of several faiths, to remember those who have lost their lives through suicide, and the devastated families and friends they left behind.

The aim of the service was “to let families know that we are thinking of them,” said 17-year-old Liam Meighan. “We can’t really know the pain they are going through, but we can try to understand and help them through it.”

Overall, he said of the day’s event: “It was very hard; often it was really overwhelming” as people shared their stories.

There was an up side, though, as “even if you just affect one person in a positive way, so that it’s not just another statistic.”

Most of us probably know someone with a friend or family member who has been affected by suicide – the young organisers included.

Yet it still isn’t widely talked about.

“You don’t really talk about it in school, because you don’t want to offend someone if you say something wrong,” Liam said. “But you know it’s there.”

Fellow KPEG member Feibhár Baldwin-Wall agreed that the event was a powerful experience. “It was really moving. It was a bit overwhelming at times because we are still young,” the 17-year-old said, but she was warmed by “the fact that people were willing to open up to us, especially to someone of our age.”

Suicide isn’t an easy subject to talk about, but it clearly helped that the teens were there to listen.

“It’s hard to bring it up, and even today we were a bit nervous because we weren’t sure what to expect,” Feibhár said. “We don’t really talk about it in school. Maybe if there weren’t such a stigma it would be easier to talk about – but compared to years ago it is more approachable now.”

“I think we are getting there,” she added. “What we did today really helped too.”

“It’s almost as if you give people permission to talk about these things,” added youth worker Jane Furey. “It is such a burden” that people are carrying, she said. “It is one of those subjects that is too close to the bone and in Ireland it is still quite taboo.”

The group’s next project is an event on October 6 to mark Drug Awareness Week. They will be bringing a Thriller flash mob to the Parade, weather permitting, or to MacDonagh Junction in the case of inclement weather. Auditions for the flash mob will be held that morning at 10am in Ossory Youth.