John Paul O’ Shea was elected as the youngest member of Cork County Council in June 2009. At just 27, he has carved a pathway for himself in public life and his commitment to community involvement remains a key objective in his new role. John Paul recently completed a suicide intervention training course organised by IRD Duhallow in conjunction with the HSE. Above, he explains how important this course was for him and the community he represents.
Suicide is one of the saddest events in human experience. It leaves devastation in its wake as relatives, friends and communities struggle with feelings of shock, loss and rejection. The subject of suicide remains a major taboo in Irish society. Suicide crosses many boundaries such of age, gender, religion, and whenever it happens it represents a difficult time for everyone in that community. Suicide describes a deep layer of terrible tragedy that stretches right across a whole community and it reflects on the terribly painful impact a suicide of a loved one can have on family and friends.
Nearly all of us have been affected in our lives by suicide, either directly or indirectly. Having gone through such an experience myself in recent years, I felt the need to help people understand the issue of suicide and how we as a community can help prevent this awful trend from continuing at such an alarming rate. Suicide is everyone’s business. We all must share the concern and focus on trying to reduce the instances of suicide and promote suicide prevention methods in order to make a difference in our community.
Recently, I completed the ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) course along with 27 other people in the James O’ Keeffe institute, Newmarket. The course was a two-day workshop in suicide first-aid which educated us how to interact and connect with people who maybe currently feeling suicidal, explore and invite them to talk about their feelings and with their consent, increase their immediate safety by offering the necessary resources and supports. It is important to say that not all suicides are preventable but if the suicide intervention skills I have learned will save just one life in my community in the future, then, it is training worth doing.
As a society, we need to talk more openly about suicide. We are discussing it more today compared to five years ago but still have a long way to go. We need to be willing to set aside time to listen and be more understanding of a person with suicidal thoughts. Recent statistics show that 250,000 people across the country have had suicidal thoughts. This might not necessarily mean that they all will act on it but the figure of 250,000 is some what staggering when the overall population of this country is just over four million.
We have to constantly remind ourselves that we are not powerless in the face of a tragic death by suicide in our community. There is much we can do; we as a community can become more aware of the obvious signs of a person with suicidal thoughts. These signs can be from giving away personal possessions, withdrawal from family and friends, loss of interest in hobbies and change in behaviour. By talking openly about suicide and asking direct questions about their thoughts of suicide, this might encourage a person in the grips of despair to disclose to you their own thoughts of suicide. From completing the ASIST training I now have the confidence to ask a person if they have a plan to die by suicide. People who feel like they have lost all sense of who they are and maybe cannot see no way out of their despair need our help. We as a community can help a person with suicidal thoughts and diffuse the immediate situation they find themselves in so they have time to look at all their options. We ultimately need to help these people to make their own decision to live.
Suicide prevention awareness initiatives are undertaken by community and voluntary groups as a result of or in response to a suicide in their community. There are also numerous support groups throughout the county who invest huge emotional capital in trying to help share the burden of those affected by suicide. As communities, let’s not wait for another suicide to take place before we act. The need for making people in our communities aware of suicide and suicide prevention is there now.
Indications are already appearing that deaths by suicide have increased since we have entered the current economic recession and this highlights now more than ever the need to focus and make our community aware on the importance of the subject of suicide and the need to promote suicide prevention measures.
The ASIST workshop has encouraged me to now ask with confidence about suicide and people’s general mental health when you feel someone’s safety may be in the balance. We as a community need to able to focus on connecting with people in our communities and listen to calls for help from people with suicidal thoughts and offer the necessary support and resources to allow them to be allowed to become empowered and part of our community again.
If you are interested in completing the ASIST course or looking for more information about ASIST and suicide prevention, contact the HSE South Mental Health Resource Office on 023 8833297 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
1Life Helpline – 1800 247 100 (24 hours) www.1life.ie
HSE Suicide Prevention Helpline – 1800 742 745 (6pm – 10pm daily) www.hse.ie
Samaritans – 1850 609 090 (24 hours) www.samaritans.org