Empowering people to fight back against suicide

There is a growing awareness of suicide in Ireland and people seem to be slowly becoming more open to talk about the painful subject, and yet there is also much progress to be made – particularly with the level of anxiety and despair resulting from the recession.

There is a growing awareness of suicide in Ireland and people seem to be slowly becoming more open to talk about the painful subject, and yet there is also much progress to be made – particularly with the level of anxiety and despair resulting from the recession.

This is the idea behind a Lifeline Seminar being held in Butler House on September 14 to mark World Suicide Prevention Day.

The theme of this year’s seminar is “Suicide Prevention in Ireland: A Whole Community Response,” and Limerick’s Deputy Dan Neville, who is due to speak at the event, says communities can play a role in helping to stop suicide.

“The responsibility for suicide prevention is the state’s, because they are responsible for the mental-health services, they are responsible for suicide prevention and they are responsible for supporting suicide bereavements,” he said.

“But I believe that community organisations and other local services – like the gardaí, the Citizens Information Centre personnel, addiction counsellors, the clergy, sporting organisations like the Gaelic Athletic Association, the IRFU, the FAI, teachers, parents, bereaved of suicides, victims, and members of the public interested in playing a role in reducing suicide – have a key role to play in reducing suicide.”

Crucial to this is making people more aware of the signs to look out for in someone who might be considering suicide, and also ways that they can help.

“We should empower people,” he said. “I always draw attention to the skill-based empowerment that helps prepare individuals of all backgrounds to provide emergency aid to assist in the prevention of suicide.”

The aim, he said, is “that people would be given the ability to recognise suicide signs, to understand something about it and to know what to do.”

He noted, for example, the “ASIST” (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) workshops run by the Assist Programme of the National Suicide Prevention Office, which are aimed at “all kinds of caregivers – health workers, teachers, community workers, Gardai, youth workers, volunteers, people responding to family, friends and co-workers.”

The programme, Deputy Neville said, “should be rolled out more and should be highlighted more in relation to empowering people to understand the signs of suicide and how to respond to it.”

This includes addressing some of the myths associated with suicide, such as the fear that merely talking about the subject with a person who might be at risk of suicide would lead them to take their own life. Actually, he said, “The opposite is the case.”

“You know, the worst thing you can say to somebody who’s suicidal is ‘Pull yourself together’ or ‘you’ll be all right’,” he said.

The goal is for people “to have the confidence to say to somebody, ‘You’re feeling down – how long are you down’?’ ‘Two weeks.’ ‘Are you feeling suicidal? Did you ever think about it?’ To have the confidence to do that and to understand – you are not becoming a psychotherapist or a counsellor but you are doing basic first-aid in relation to how to handle the situation.”

This effort to raise awareness about suicide is key to the Lifeline Seminar being held in Kilkenny on September 14. There will also be related events taking place around the city on September 8, which will be recorded by Young Irish Film Makers.

There will be several speakers at the seminar, and Deputy Neville said he would be looking at some of the statistics around suicide and some of the risk factors. He is also planning to address the issue of youth suicide and some of the reasons, “which are very complex.”

He is also planning to cover some of the changes that have taken place in society and the recent increase in suicide that has come with the recession – “the loss of employment and how it affects the person, how it affects their self-esteem, how it affects their relationship within their family, an increase in marriage breakdown, an increase in levels of depression and anxiety, and issues around financial difficulties, especially around the threatened loss of a home.”

It’s a cause to which Deputy Neville has devoted a considerable amount of time, and it was his efforts in the early 1990s that helped lead to suicide being decriminalised in Ireland in 1993.

For too many years, he said, “suicide was part of the hidden Ireland. Nobody spoke about it; there were statistics but it was not debated in the media. It was a taboo subject.”

The effort to reduce the level of suicide in Ireland remains an uphill battle, although it is clear that some gains have been made.

“To be honest, when I started out with this I was on a continuum from zero to 10 and I was hoping to get to 10, where everything would be fine. I think I’m at two – maybe three,” Deputy Neville said, acknowledging that at least “it’s better than zero.”

“It is progress,” he said, “but it is very limited and we need a lot more.”

To book a place at the seminar, contact info@lifeline-kilkenny.org or call 0876686525.