Many years ago, I stood on a high bridge in Siret, Northeast Romania. I was a millisecond from jumping. Maybe, this is a shocking revelation for most readers.
It is a scenario that occurs too often but most times we never hear of those who attempt to take their own lives by their own hand.
I can only relate to my own experience and how I reached this point of despair. I was on my second volunteer mission to an orphanage in Romania where the children were both mentally and physically handicapped. We can look at the television pictures and see the hellish images of inhumane depravity with our eyes. To witness this by being physically present is a totally different experience.
In some areas of the orphanage there was a terrible din where emotional and physical pain screamed from the depths souls of the older children. Others sat on their soil stained beds, hands and feet tied, rocking backwards and forwards in silence. Most disturbing was the small babies who just lay there motionless often in stinking clothes wet with their own urine. Their cries had long hushed because they went unanswered. To this day, I still smell the smell and hear the noise but most of all I see the silent infants abandoned to hopelessness.
One afternoon, I was sitting at the kitchen table with a local Romanian volunteer in our accommodation. He was teaching me Romanian phrases. Just in an instant, my mind numbed into a trance. I walked to a bridge just minutes away and climbed onto the wall. I was in the process of lifting one of my legs to leap. Then a familiar voice of an Irish colleague beckoned me. She took me down off the verge. For almost a year after I lived in the dark abyss of unrelenting pain. Health professionals label this as depression. It has long since passed thank God. The memory remains though and always will. It is important to state that nobody could have foreseen my actions. The guilt felt by family members and close friends of a suicide victim is always there. They ask “how could I not see this coming”? In the majority of cases it is impossible.
Suicide has reached epidemic proportions in Ireland. The President of the Irish Association of Suicidology Mr. Dan Neville said that “every suicide is highly complex and multi-faceted. We all want to pin suicide on something, on some specific factor like the recession. People want a simple answer but there isn’t one” ( RTE Investigations Unit, 22nd July 2016). In my case, I was totally irrational and was not in a fit state to realise what I was doing. Obviously those who die by suicide or attempt suicide do not want to live. Those who suffer from depression are certainly vulnerable. For me, the pain was unbearable. It was there every minute, of every hour and of every day. The only respite I had was at night when I took a sleeping tablet. The pain was gone for that period but it didn’t last long enough. During the day, I waited for night time because I knew that I was going to get relief.
I had a great support team though. My wife Maura attended me 24/7. I engaged health professionals. At the beginning I wanted to receive an injection which would dim my mind permanently because the pain was so intense. Little by little, though, I improved and eventually reached full health in approximately a year.
The figures for suicide and attempted suicide are startling. According to the International Association for Suicide Prevention, “The World Health Organization estimates that over 800,000 people die by suicide each year – that’s one person every 40 seconds. Up to 25 times as many again make a suicide attempt. The tragic ripple effect means that there are many, many more people who have been bereaved by suicide or have been close to someone who have tried to take his or her own life. And this is happening in spite of the fact that suicide is preventable”.
Professional medical help is out there. The best starting place is your doctor.
Suicide awareness groups have emerged in recent years to help those who are in dire straights. People who are faced with mental illness often believe that they are on their own and that their situation is hopeless. Not so. There are many support groups such as www.pieta.ie, www.aware.ie, www.grow.ie, www.headsup.ie, www.headstrong.ie, www.mentalhealthireland.ie, www.nosp.ie, www.reachout.ie, www.leanonme.ie and www.letsomeoneknow.ie. There are many others but a G.P. will be able to advise which is best suited for the individual’s needs.
SUICIDE PREVENTION DAY
This Sunday the 10th September is World Suicide Prevention Day. There’s very few people in Ireland who do not know of someone who has died by suicide. As I said the statistics are shocking. I believe that we all can help. Reach out if you know someone who is in distress and be proactive. Thank you for taking the time to read this column.