“A winter night. In cold and darkness, she steals her way through the woods, her feet tracing the moon-silvered path dully, mechanically, like the wheels of a train. She follows for a mile or more, glancing occasionally at the moon, it’s sick white face, glimpsed through dark branches, staring full and hopelessly back like one of those kids on a cancer ward. Then, suddenly, a break in the trees, a deep cutting opening its arms to catch her, the trains thumping through... every few seconds... sudden endless carriages rushing through the windy cutting... and she's high on the giddy footbridge. And she's leaning her elbows on the criss-cross rails. And she's watching the carriages rushing, pushing under her feet. And she's wondering if she has the nerve. And she's feeling sick and bleak as the trains keep cutting through. And she stands there for an hour, wobbling between life and death, that night—the night she finally killed herself. In the forty seconds or so that it took you to read those words......someone somewhere in the world has killed themselves. Read them again and someone else will die too”. (explainthatstuff.com).
I attended a conference last weekend presented by Joe Coyle (Pieta House) entitled Inspire ’17. Various speakers detailed their testimonies from dealing with depression to motivational accounts of overcoming barriers on their paths to leading successful lives.
It was indeed motivating, informative and most of all inspiring to hear these people bare their souls publicly. I have written here many times on the topic of suicide because I was almost another statistic on the suicide list. I feel that it is important to relate my experience in the hope that someone else out there knows that help is readily available.
Although, we are in the process of de-stigmatising the issue of suicide, I feel that we still have a long way to go. It is as though there is a conspiracy of silence. According to the World Health Organization (Suicide: World Health Organization Factsheet No 398, August 2015), something like 800,000 people die by suicide every year (roughly one every 40 seconds). According to the WHO for every person who dies by suicide, 20 more attempt it. If suicides were accurately reported, and everyone who attempted suicide pulled it off, we might be looking at 20 million deaths worldwide each year. These figures are shocking. Yet, most of us can’t or won’t open up and talk about this awful issue.
In an article by Lucy Costigan in the Irish Examiner on September 3rd, 2015 ‘The people of Ireland are living in a suicide box’ we are told that Ireland has approximately 525 suicides per year. Costigan gives many statistics but says that “suicide tends to be attributed either to mental illness or weakness which renders some people less able to cope with the pressures of living than others”. I have always held that the issue is more profound than this.
And Costigan agrees. In a book, which she co-authored with Anthony Walsh she says “suicide is actually the result of intolerable emotional and psychological pain inflicted on ordinary people by a complex mix of factors rooted in the sick society or ‘suicide box’ in which they live… Irish society is ruled by an obsession with social media, appearance, status, wealth and marketing” but also one she warns “which lacks any real emotional or moral and spiritual guidance.
Although individual reasons may be infinite, the outstanding point that Costigan makes is that “deep-rooted causes of suicide lie with society’s beliefs and practices”. There are many other pressures on young people such as excellence at school, success in sport and just being the best in whatever they do. Apparently, we are in the top ten happiest nations in the world yet we have the second highest suicide rate for males up to 19 years of age and the highest rate for female suicides in the same age group.
It is interesting to note that Costigan refers to the loss of religion in Ireland. “We have lost that spiritual awareness or guidance – religion provided structures that acted as a support or a community for people” she explains. It still does. Her overall assessment of the suicide issue is that “we’re trapped in social structures that weaken us, particularly if we’re not fitting in as society demands”.
There are broad and varied reasons, sometimes complex for people taking their own lives. I do not intend to detail them here. I am not an expert but I do feel that mental health has to be attacked head on just as other medical conditions are. I feel that we are doing our children a disservice by not offering a comprehensive health education programme in school curricula. There is a lot of emphasis on the core academics of reading, writing and maths. The middle years of childhood are extremely sensitive times for a number of health issues, especially when it comes to adopting health behaviour that can have lifelong consequences. We need to expose our children to a variety of health themes in late primary school: nutrition, disease prevention, physical growth and development, reproduction, mental health, drug and alcohol abuse prevention. The goal of this education is not only to increase our child's health knowledge and to create positive attitudes toward his/her own well-being but also to promote healthy behaviour. Children are being taught life skills, not merely academic skills. I appreciate that some of these topics are indeed being taught in many schools but, some more to the cost of others such as mental health.
Some children may have trouble managing their emotions (anger and/or anxiety), coping with change, working cooperatively and/or making and keeping friends. These stresses can have life-long effects. Teaching children how to deal with feelings, emotions and stresses would be invaluable. In today’s modern climate of winning at all costs and of being successful, our kids are under an inordinate amount of pressure. It’s time to take a step back and consider what we are doing to them. For God’s sake, let’s be proactive and speak out for our future generations.
The National Football League begins on Saturday 4th February and for Donegal Sunday 5th February. Because of the recent retirements from the Donegal squad it will be refreshing to view the new talent which team manager Rory Gallagher will introduce to the fray. Preferring to play challenge games instead of competing in the McKenna Cup, only the diehard and hard core Donegal supporters witnessed these matches. Kerry will be Donegal’s first competitive opponents since August 6th last year when we were beaten by Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final. There are no easy games in the first division on the national league and hopefully Kerry will be slow off the mark as they usually are in the early part of the season.