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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Suicide is painful

It's world mental health day today.

Normally, I'm don't go in for makey-uppy designated days. After all, Mother is mother all year round and not just some random Sunday chosen by greeting card manufacturers. And it's the same with this day. People suffering from mental ill health do so any time of the year, not just today.

Perhaps someone might want to tell Minister Tim O'Malley (pictured right, staring into space as usual.)

But at least it gives wonderful organisations like The Samaritans and Aware the chance to remind the majority of us who teeter just the right side of insanity most of the time that there is a minority out there who aren't coping.

Among the statistics to emerge today is that one in 13 Irish students suffer from clinical depression. Unlucky for some indeed.

You have to wonder what is really going on in a country experiencing unprecedented wealth, affluence and opportunity when the cream of the crop, the educated, intelligent golden youth, are suffering depression in their thousands and taking their own lives by the hundreds annually.

Last month, two brothers took their own lives in Belfast. One killed himself suddenly, without warning to friends or family, causing the inevitable tidal wave of grief, anger and agony that such deaths always do.

Within weeks, a matter of days really, his brother followed his example. This tragedy, one that is played out in hundreds of Irish homes every year, was particularly acute for the Mailey family, as they had lost not one cherished son but two.

Bravely, the boys' parents spoke out in the media about their unimaginable loss and anguish, in the hope that their pain might alert those suffering from depression to reach out and seek help.

But they did not spare their anger in describing how Mark, suffering dreadfully from the loss of his beloved brother, sought help from doctors and hospitals, only to be fobbed off with weeks of waiting and a handful of tranquilisers.

I fear that their words will fall on many deaf ears, including those who most need to listen - the politicians mismanaging mental health services and the disturbed, depressed and isolated young people who are suffering from mental ill health.

Years ago I ran an information and support service for people bereaved by suicide. I did this voluntarily, but it cost me a lot of money I didn't have.

I did it because people who have lost a loved one to suicide are many times more likely to die by their own hands than the general populace. And at that time in Ireland, there was little or no information, no group support meetings, and certainly no state funding for such services.

I was literally deluged. People who had lost brothers, sisters or parents decades earlier contacted me in tears, the pain as vivid and the loss as acute as it was when the suicide occurred. And then there were the people who had only just lost someone, often a child, and didn't know who to turn to.

The priest offered prayers, the doctor pills. The state offered nothing. The community turned away in an embarrassed silence from them. They came to me. It quickly became apparent that I needed to find counsellors, and lots of them, and to organise support groups for the suicide bereaved.

And I needed funds. But back then, over a decade ago, the state wasn't interested. I couldn't get the funding. I ran out of cash and beyond. I had to close the service and get a job to pay off the debts. In the meantime, the suicide rate hit record levels.

The Government might try to tell you that things have changed since, but they haven't. Last year, the Irish Minister with responsibility for Mental Health - that's the dozy looking chap pictured above - told the Dail "
[the] constant reiteration and repetition about the problems in the mental health services is becoming a bit tiresome."

Amazingly, no paranoid schizophrenic unable to access proper care has chosen to kill Minister Tim O'Malley yet. Even more amazingly, he's STILL minister with reponsibility for mental health.

And while we do now have suicide support groups dotted like oases of mental calm around the country, the vast majority of money attached to suicide goes towards medical research. Let me explain something very simply so that even Dim O'Malley will understand:

Suicide is caused by people killing themselves. That's all there is to it. How do you stop people killing themselves? Well, try funding the mental health services for starters.

Mental health funding in the Republic of Ireland has deteriorated to such an extent that disturbed children are held as in-patients in adult psychiatric wards. And they now intend to sell off the grounds of psychiatric hospitals just to pay for the next few years service, such is the demand and the historic lack of investment.

Surely it is now time to divert some of our affluence away from material goods and towards crucial services like these. If you can't get proper help when you need it and reach out for it, like Mark Mailey did in Belfast last month, or if you seek it when young enough only to find yourself in an adult psychiatric ward, what does that say about the morals of the country you are in?

For help or support contact Samaritans call 1850 609090 or email jo@samaritans.org

1 comment:

MelloBiafra said...

Skinner...did you see last night's (30th Oct) UTV Insight programme on the Maileys? Some USELESS UTV BINT (I Know Who She Is and She Will Be SPOKEN TO!) voiced it with William Shatner-esque emphasis ON all THE wrong WORDS and with such cloying and amateurish faux-sincerity that I nearly put my foot through the F*CKING Set! I'm gonna DivX it up for anybody who thinks thay can bear to watch it.