Giving people a chance to talk as pressure grows in rural communities
Suicide-prevention group Stop Suicide was formed to help rural people, but its helpline takes calls from all over the country
‘It was three years before I could even start to grieve for Kevin, I was so worried about something happening the rest of my children,” says Leitrim farmer Seán Fallon. “If they didn’t come home when they were supposed to at night, I would pace up and down the house or drive into the town and ask people had they seen them about.”
Seán Fallon lost his 24-year-old son, Kevin, to suicide eight years ago.
“You never get over it, but you learn to live with it, and the only way you’ll do that is if you talk about it. Years ago it was kept a secret. We used to go up to the church and there was a man buried there at the side of the church but not in the graveyard because he had taken his own life. There were families who had a loss from suicide who never mentioned the person’s name again; a father, a daughter or a brother. I had people walk away from me when I said that I had a child who took their own life.”
Kevin’s death prompted Seán’s wife, Carmel, to seek out counselling and they arranged to meet several Leitrim families who had also lost loved ones to suicide.
“We then organised a conference on mental health and suicide and 800 people came,” says Seán. From there the organisation, Stop Suicide, was formed to help rural people in the northwest region, but its helpline takes calls and offers one-to-one counselling to clients from all over the country.
“Someone might ring us from Cork because they don’t want people to know how they are feeling so we can put them in touch with a counsellor in a different county or town from them. They are assessed, and some may be advised to see a GP but the most important thing is giving people the chance to talk. If you don’t talk, you won’t get better and I know this from my own recovery.”
In the past 12 months several high-profile deaths in farming, including Shane McEntee TD, has brought new urgency in addressing mental health problems in farming and rural communities. In the UK farmers are classed as a high-risk group for suicide. Vets also suffer disproportionate levels in their profession. Long working hours in solitary conditions combined with high- achieving individuals who put pressure on themselves is a dangerous combination.
“Kevin couldn’t get enough of work; he’d be out at 6.30 in the morning checking sheep,” says Seán. “He was one of those lads who would never go out without the pocket full. He liked things to be just right. That’s why we never saw it coming. Even now years later I wonder why we never saw how he could have been so desperate.”
Michelle Maguire is a Stop Suicide counsellor and psychotherapist. “We saved 81 lives in the past year. All were people who were suicidal when they called us. We helped them, gave them 10 hours of free counselling and all of those 81 are still alive today. Many of Stop Suicide’s clients are rural men, some are bachelors who never married and stayed to mind a parent or farm when their siblings married or left the area.
“Young men between 17 and mid-20s are a critical group as well,” says Maguire. “Some of them would be on anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication when they contact us. People are so low at that point, things have become very black and white.
“If they are high risk we call the Garda and get them into A&E; getting to them in that critical period is everything. Then we support their recovery; 10 hours of counselling doesn’t sound like a lot but we focus on the present – how they are feeling and supporting a future for them. We don’t try to go back into the past and the model we have is a system that works.”
Men account for eight out of 10 suicides in Ireland. A recent study by See Change into mental health attitudes revealed that while 94 per cent of people in Ireland feel that mental health problems can affect anyone, one in two would not want anyone to know if they had a mental health problem.
Among farmers, 57 per cent said they would not want others to know if they had a mental health issue; 45 per cent said they would not know how to help someone with issues; and 27 per cent would delay seeking help in fear of someone finding out.
Stop Suicide has 23 qualified counsellors and psychotherapists with counselling rooms in eight counties. Freephone: 1850 211 87; email: info@ stopsuicide.ie; stopsuicide.ie