21 Grams, the perceived weight of the human soul, is a powerful creation depicting in excess of 90 suspended men’s white shirt collars.
There are times in one’s life when something impacts so meaningfully, that it doesn’t manifest itself immediately, but rather in those moments of reflection later, when the import of the experience finally sinks in.
Last Saturday, I went along to Dunree Fort to view an exhibition entitled ‘Lived Lost Lives’, where I met among others, Dr Seamus McGuinness, one of the co-founders of this extraordinary project, and Dr Colette Moore, Senior Research Psychologist with the National Suicide Research Foundation.
Dr Moore was one of the co-authors earlier this year of a report commissioned by the Donegal Mental Health Service (DMHS) and funded by the National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP)which examined sudden unexpected deaths and those who took their own lives while in the care of the Donegal Mental Health Service between October 2011 and May 2015.
The research was approved by the Clinical Director of Psychiatric Services who sought to gain insight into the increasing number of sudden unexpected deaths of its users while in the care of the mental health service, including people who took their lives. The research showed that:
* Younger men up to 41 years old were overrepresented among those who had died by suicide or sudden unexpected death.
*Almost half of the cases being examined were known to abuse both drugs and
*Alcohol prior to death while one fifth had abusive or dependent issues with a single l substance.
*A history of self-harm was known in three quarters of the deceased, with over half
* Having a previous medically recorded episode of self-harm in the 12 months prior to death.
* The vast majority of cases had at least one psychiatric in-patient admission, withmultiple admissions being more common among the middle-aged group.
* Nine deaths occurred during the first two months of discharge from the psychiatric unit.
*Psychiatric diagnosis was confirmed in all 34 cases, with the majority also having a secondary diagnosis. Depression and substance abuse were most frequently reported in both categories
* The majority of the deceased were being prescribed medication for mental illness precedingdeath. However, over three quarters of these were described as non-compliant, particularly in those cases where substance abuse or dependence was diagnosed.
* Many mental disorders cause cognitive disruption including problems with memory, highlighting the vulnerability of this group with regard to the effects of disrupted psychiatric medication.
*More than half (53%) of those who died suddenly or with a presumed cause of suicide, had family members with known mental health issues, the most common of which were depression and substance abuse.
* More than half of the deceased had experienced childhood trauma, including physical and sexual abuse.
THE WEIGHT OF THE SOUL
Back in 2004, Dr Seamus McGuinness first demonstrated his unique exploration of suicide in Ireland, entitled 21 Grams, at a conference entitled “Suicide in Modern Ireland: New Dimensions, New Responses”.
So impressed were the organisers at Seamus’s 21 Grams artwork and his passion for highlighting issues around suicide through such a fascinating artistic medium, they invited him to exhibit his very evocative piece in Dublin Castle in both 2008 & 2005.
21 Grams, the perceived weight of the human soul, is a powerful creation depicting in excess of 90 suspended men’s white shirt collars. Each shirt weighs 21 grams, symbolising the aftermath of suicide, the reverence of life and living, the life lost, and the void left behind. The ethereal quality of the work beautifully illustrates the fragility of life.
Having walked through the Donegal shirt collars with Seamus, I was awestruck and very moved.
In tandem with the 21 grams exhibition is a stunning and poignant Visual Arts Autopsy study, the first of its kind internationally where families donated to the project keepsakes, mementos or treasured items belonging to their lost loved one. These formed the narrative of “100 Lived Lives” incorporating visual and audio in a unique installation paying reverent tribute to those who died by suicide and also to their families who collaborated so generously on the survey.
“Lost Portraits” emerged from the “100 Lived Lives’” Archive. Tapestries have always fulfilled the function of telling stories, and so, the “Lost Portraits” project consists of a series of 40 life-sized tapestries of 40 Lived Lives’ lost to suicide in Ireland 2003-2008. Each Portrait image was donated by the families of the deceased, together with their narrative of the life and death of their suicide-deceased loved one.
Reading final letters from a son prior to taking his life and a mother writing about her 14-year old daughter was heart-wrenching as were the video testaments and reactions of loved ones,
Seamus Mc Guinness has a particular interest in identity, which in the case of a suicide death is most frequently replaced by a statistic. As he told me, the person behind the statistic is either forgotten, or defined by the manner of their death, instead of the life they lived.
I cannot recommend this exhibition strongly enough. It is actually life-affirming and redemptive.
GOD LOVE HER, ALL THE SAME!
Poor Louise Taylor...I recall her passionate piece in the Guardian last July (she’s one of their football correspondents), which read “Sam Allardyce has the power to help England see the wood for the trees...The astute former Sunderland manager will bring clearness of thought and common sense to his new job, plus a down-to-earth openness that will encourage his England players to pursue a fresh path.”
It's easy to be smug and all that, but thought struck me, when you put it down on paper it can come back to haunt you.
DYLAN ON TRUMP?
I see the usual snotterboxes whinging about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. I’m delighted...to quote the man…”Don’t think twice, it’s alright.” Here’s a selection of his lyrics which could have been written for Donald Trump:
From Positively 4th Street, “You got a lotta nerve/ To say you got a helping hand to lend/ You just want to be on/ The side that’s winning”
From Early Roman Kings, “They’re peddlers and they’re meddlers/ They buy and they sell/ They destroyed your city/ They’ll destroy you as well” and
“Well, you can run down to the White House/ You can gaze at the Capitol Dome, You can pound on the President’s gate/ But you oughta know by now it’s gonna be too late/ You’re gonna need/ You’re gonna need my help someday/ Well, if you can’t quit your sinnin’/ Please quit your lowdown ways.”