A COUNTY councillor who has lost four family members through suicide has called on the HSE to provide an outreach office in the Graiguecullen area.
In a sometimes emotional interview, cllr Ben Brennan said there are “absolutely no services for people who are going through depression or anxiety in this part of Laois. And furthermore, there are no services being offered to the bereaved families”.
Cllr Brennan recalled how his 62-year-old brother Eamon was found by one of his neighbours in the house where he lived in Crettyard on Friday 11 September 2015.
“Eamon had an alcohol problem. I think it started when his wife died over ten years ago. He came home from Scotland at the time and lived in a small caravan for a while. He was a great carpenter and was always tipping around the area doing bits and pieces. I think he drank to dull the pain over the death of his wife. He always wanted to beat the drink and would regularly go to his doctor, who prescribed tablets for him. He also went to the Cuain Mhuire rehabilitation centre in Athy for residential treatment for ten weeks.
“When he came out from Cuain Mhuire he was in great form. He was off the drink for about three years after that. He got a house in Crettyard and was living there, but he got shingles and went back on the drink. It’s a thing that there is no cure for. I think he went back drinking to try and deal with the pain of the shingles.
“The family and his neighbours always looked in on him, but he was alone in the house, which was always lonely for him. We tried to encourage him to go back to Cuain Mhuire, but you can’t force anybody to do anything that they don’t want to do, and Eamon didn’t want to go. But we continued to give him as much support as we could. There were no outwards signs that he was depressed or anxious about anything. There were no indications that he was thinking about ending his own life. While he had a few mood swings, we thought nothing of it because we all have them by times. Without drink, he was the most gentle man you could ever come across.
“The night before he died, my sister was up visiting him. He was in fairly good form. She jokingly said ‘have you been a bold boy again?’– meaning have you had a few drinks. He also joked: ‘I’ll never change. I just give up.’
“I think, looking back now, that was the time when he admitted to himself that he had lost his battle against alcohol and had given up on life. He always told me that he would have liked to have been able to do the things that other people do but that the drink was holding him back.
“But there’s one thing that nobody can ever say against Eamon, and that is, he tried. He kept trying and trying to give up the drink.
“We were told how he died, but never told how deep his depression was. Nobody knew. I don’t even think the doctor knew. And when I hear people say that there are signs, I can tell you that was not the case with Eamon.”
Cllr Brennan said that his cousin, who had two children, also lost her life in 2006 at the age of 27.
“There were no signs there either. In fact, she was organising to get married at the time of her death.”
The daughter of another of his cousins also died by suicide at the age of 21 in 2016, and in August this year a different cousin’s 14-year-old daughter took her own life.
“In each of the cases,” said cllr Brennan, “there were no signs. No indications. Nothing to point that anything was wrong or that any of them had been suffering with depression or had suicidal tendencies.
“After Eamon’s death, nobody from the HSE or any other agency came near our family. And even today, two years after Eamon’s death, nobody from the HSE has contacted any of our family to see how we are coping.”
“A short while after the funeral I was out shopping at Dunnes Stores in Graiguecullen when this woman I knew came over to me to express her condolences. She had lost three children through suicide. She told me that she was with a voluntary suicide support group in Carlow town called Talk It Over and invited me along. That group was of enormous help to us.
“People are crying out for help and for people to listen to them. The support services should not be left to a voluntary organisation. There are absolutely no state support agencies in this part of the county to help people in crisis situations. Only for Talk It Over in Carlow, where would I be today? For them to say people can travel to Portlaoise to talk to a HSE counsellor is a joke. It’s more than a 60-mile round trip to get there.
“What I am calling for is the HSE to set up an office in the Graiguecullen area manned by a trained counsellor.”