By Carmel Hayes
FIVE tragic deaths in just 19 days reflect a serious mental health crisis in Laois, according to a priest trained in suicide intervention.
Parish priest Fr Paddy Byrne says the terrible loss and grief suffered by local families over the past month is very worrying and highlights an urgent need for emergency supports.
He says: “Every suicide leaves a scar on a family and a community. The reality is that families are devastated and communities are overwhelmed with grief and shock.”
While individual deaths by suicide are usually not spoken of openly and are rarely highlighted in the media, Fr Byrne says that five suicides in Laois within 19 days cannot be ignored and signal a deep crisis that demands attention.
Speaking to the Laois Nationalist, he said: “There is a serious crisis now in Laois in terms of mental health and I would be deeply concerned. Suicide is a permanent end to a temporary problem and there is no coming back from it.”
He has attended emergencies at all hours of the day and night, providing help both as a priest and as an ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) trained person, with the skills that can reduce the immediate risk of a suicide.
He describes the recent litany of loss through suicide as a pandemic that requires a focused approach by health services, just as much as the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said: “We had a pandemic of Covid but no one seems to be talking about the pandemic of suicide, for that’s what this is.”
Christy Bannon from Portlaoise, who is founder of the Laois branch of the national SOSAD (Save Our Sons and Daughters) suicide prevention and awareness organisation, also describes the sad series of suicides across the county as a pandemic, with some crisis situations triggered by the Covid pandemic itself.
Christy observes: “My own opinion is that when someone is suffering from anxiety, depression or other mental health issues, they bury their heads and try to get on with it, because there is still such a stigma in talking about mental health struggles. Then when they are thrown into a lockdown, they are left alone with their thoughts and those thoughts can become totally intrusive. If they are stuck on their own with those thoughts, all it takes is one incident or wave to wash over them and send them over.
“In a moment of utter confusion and anguish, they believe that the world is better off without them. With suicide, the desperately sad thing is that they will never know they were wrong to believe that.”
While each suicide is complex and individual causes differ, Christy believes that the Covid pandemic has brought a range of challenges for vulnerable people, ranging from financial difficulties, job losses and lack of social interaction to simply not having the opportunity to have a chat with friends or work colleagues that could help put things in perspective.
He said: “Some people tend to withdraw when they’re feeling depressed or anxious and they don’t want to mix. During restrictions and lockdown, that was less noticeable for friends and colleagues and people became very isolated. In an office, someone might see that you’re not feeling great and you could have a chat. But when working from home, people who are depressed can mask it very well during a phone call or a Zoom call, although in fact they are really struggling.”
Laois SOSAD was set up earlier this year, providing support and services for people who are struggling with suicidal ideation, self harming, depression, bereavement, stress and anxiety, or if they simply need to talk.
A Dawn to Dusk walk in aid of the suicide prevention charity was held in Timahoe on Sunday and donations can still be made at sosadireland.ie. The planned Portlaoise SOSAD office is set to open before the end of the year. The service has trained counsellors and can be contacted at 083 0291706 or [email protected]
Christy says: “If only people would make that phone call. Suicide has an absolutely catastrophic effect on the person’s family, friends and others around them. They are haunted forever by questions, wondering what they could have done to prevent it. If only people would stop hiding their struggles and speak more openly, people would not have to wonder why.”
The Teac Tom charity in Stradbally also provides crisis support, helping families and individuals affected by suicide and mental health issues. The group is based in both Laois and Kilkenny. Visit www.thethomashayestrust.com for a full list of services or call 056 7796592 to make an appointment.