Bereaved mothers who have lost sons to suicide have pleaded with political parties to prioritise mental health.
The women, who have set up the Circle of Hope suicide support group on the northside of Cork City, issued their plea yesterday, as Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams met them and several other groups involved in suicide support programmes.
They told Mr Adams, and his party’s two candidates in Cork North Central, TD Jonathan O’Brien and Thomas Gould, how five young people in one small area of Ballyvolane and Dublin Hill died by suicide within a few months of each other in 2013.
“It was a horrible year — one after the other. Our group came out of that,” said Lynda Haynes.
Her son, Corey O’Callaghan, died by suicide three weeks before his 21st birthday. Fiona Mackey’s son, John, took his own life a few months later. He was 14.
Ms Haynes said the pain never leaves, but having a support group, where people can talk and remember their loved ones, helps them cope.
“Everyone knew Corey. He was just an old soul. It was like he was here before. He gave his heart and time to everyone. He was so happy-go-lucky,” she said.
Corey left a note in which he said he had the best friends. “But he also said he had pain — pain we didn’t see,” said Ms Haynes.
“I think he just got tired. He counselled a lot of people. The one person he needed to help was himself.”
Ms Mackey said John left two notes for his family.
“He didn’t do this to cause us pain. It was to get rid of his own pain, but we don’t know what that pain was. Only for this support group. I wouldn’t be here,” she said.
Both women told Mr Adams they want politicians to commit to mental health awareness campaigns.
“Money doesn’t come into it. We fundraise ourselves. We just want them to commit to awareness,” said Ms Haynes.
Mr Adams praised the support groups and called for an all-island approach to tackling suicide, including the introduction of a sustained advertising campaign modelled on road-safety campaigns.
“These groups can take some succour from the fact that even though some of them have lost loved ones, they have saved a lot of other people by the work they are doing,” he said.
“There are people alive today who would otherwise be dead only for the advocacy work and awareness work they are doing.”
Statistics show 459 people — 368 men and 91 women — took their own lives in Ireland last year, but the real suicide figure could be as high as 1,000.
“Despite the fact that 644,000 people — one in seven adults — have experienced mental-health issues in the last year, successive governments have neglected the mental health area,” said Mr Adams. He said if Sinn Féin was in government, it would increase the mental health budget in year one by €35m, complete the rollout of suicide crisis assessment nurses, and reverse cuts to guidance counsellors.
By Irish examiner reporter Eoin English
My own experience during the twenty-five years that I have lived in this part of Ireland, is that I have known several people from different walks of life who have taken their own lives and when the financial downturn came that number unfortunately grew.