Mother of cancer victim Donal Walsh says harsh reality of suicide must be highlighted
Suicide support helpline on the way for farm families
Members of the audience at the 2013 Women and Agriculture Conference in Killarney.
Some 650 women rose to their feet in unison and gave a standing ovation to Elma Walsh yesterday after she talked about the death of her son Donal in May.
The 16-year-old from Tralee had cancer and in the final months of his illness he appealed to young people not to take their own lives.
Ms Walsh told the Women and Agriculture conference in Killarney that she had received many letters from people who were depressed and from people who were coping with the aftermath of a suicide.
“We have letters from people in their 70s whose brothers and sisters took their own lives 50 years ago and only after seeing Donal on television felt they could let go,” she said.
The family had also received letters from young widows and widowers who were struggling to explain to their children why their parents had taken their own lives. “These are the harsh realities of suicide and should be highlighted.”
Done all she could
She said she knew she had done all she could to keep Donal alive. “I can’t imagine what the parent of a child who commits suicide goes through. They don’t get that chance.”
Earlier the conference heard that a dedicated helpline for farm families affected by stress and suicide will be launched in the coming weeks to address the high incidence of suicide in rural communities.
Irish Farmers’ Association farm family chairwoman Margaret Healy said her group was working with the suicide prevention centre Pieta House to help families recognise the signs of suicide. A recent study of suicide cases in Cork between 2008 and 2012 showed 13 per cent of the victims worked in agriculture – second only to construction, which accounted for 41 per cent.
Ms Healy said people were often afraid to ask someone if they felt suicidal, fearing it would give them ideas. “By using the word suicide you’re not going to plant the idea in somebody’s head. You’re not going to make them suicidal.”
Stop and talk
Ms Healy also said people needed to stop and talk more as some people in rural Ireland could spend a week without talking to anyone. There was no point in asking what the Government was going to do about it.“We do have to become communities again. We do have to look out for each other.”
Dr Donal O’Shea, consultant endocrinologist at St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin, told women attending the conference that they were often the role models for their family’s eating behaviour. He said there was an 80 per cent chance that an obese child would be an obese adult and he urged parents to ban energy and sugary drinks.
Dr O’Shea also criticised Coca Cola for directly targeting children with their recent campaign which involved putting names on bottles so that children wanted a bottle when they saw their name on it.