Influencer raises thousands as Pieta House stretched at both ends

Charity postpones major fundraising event while demand for services goes up

Influencer Louise Cooney has set up a fundraising page for Pieta House through her social media platforms. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

Influencer Louise Cooney has set up a fundraising page for Pieta House through her social media platforms. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

 

Influencer Louise Cooney has used the power of social media to raise €50,000 and counting for suicide prevention charity Pieta House, as it struggles to meet demand amid the coronavirus lockdown.

Across its 15 centres in Ireland, Pieta House offers free counselling to those suffering from suicidal ideation and to people who are engaging in self-harm.

However, with 86 per cent of their yearly revenue coming from fundraising, social distancing restrictions have both increased the demand on their services and proved a financial sucker punch. Through the postponed Darkness Into Light event alone, Pieta House was expecting to raise €6 million.

Since the Government introduced gradual lockdown measures last month, it has also experienced a spike in the number of emergency calls it has received. The charity’s funding and advocacy regional manager, Tom McEvoy, told The Irish Times it’s calling on the public to get behind its new fundraising initiatives:

“We are feeling it immediately, all donations that would normally come through fundraising events have been postponed. The normal coffee mornings and race nights, that people could constantly do for us have been put on hold. We are asking people to visit our website where you can jump on the different virtual fundraising events that are going on, to keep our heads above water at the moment.

“There’s a massive gap that we have to fill. And the likes of Louise Cooney’s initiative is raising huge funds. People are putting their shoulder to the wheel to try and help us. Who have perhaps been impacted by us in the past and feel it is necessary to keep it available to others while we are in this lockdown and unable to go about our normal work.

“We have a reserve which we are dipping into currently and we have a number of months still, to be able to stay in operation. We are working closely with the government in terms of their assistance and how they can perhaps provide some additional income and that work is ongoing.

“So we are really appealing to the community at large. Our services are needed and we feel the community know that. We are in a very delicate situation but if we can get through the next number of months with some funding and donations that’ll help keep our doors open metaphorically speaking until we can actually open them again.”

Ms Cooney, who lost a cousin to suicide last year, had raised €35,000 on her GoFund Me page within 24 hours on Thursday, with her army of almost 200,000 social media followers rallying behind the campaign. Kicking things off with a €1,000 donation of her own, she surpassed her €5,000 goal well within an hour. Back in December fellow influencer Rosie Connolly raised almost €300,000 for both Temple Street Children’s Hospital and Crumlin Children’s Hospital via a giveaway on her Instagram page.

To date, Pieta House has been able to maintain its therapy services for every one of their existing clients - with all sessions taking place by phone or video call. As for their new clients - there has been a rise in calls from rural areas especially. But the message across the board for anyone suffering from “raised anxiety”, or with any mental health concerns, remains the same:

“We are there for them. Normally we would see a third of our clients are 18 and under and that figure hasn’t changed even in the current circumstances. And we are constantly supporting that age profile. But at the moment we are particularly conscious of rural isolation and people who are not easily able to connect with somebody else. So we are appealing for people in the community to lift the phone to somebody that they might be concerned about or haven’t heard from in a while.”

The Cooney family are one of those to have answered the charity’s call, with Louise’s aunt Patrice releasing a heartfelt appeal on her niece’s Instagram page:

“Our story is a devastating one - our lovely son Nicky died by suicide on August 3rd last year and it has left a devastating hole in our family - so please keep communicating and please keep reaching out and keep trying to find the answer to your problem. While there’s life there’s hope.”

Ms Cooney’s fundraising effort can be found on her Instagram page by following the link in her bio: “I know this is a really difficult time and a lot of people have lost their jobs but it is a very important cause,” she told her followers on Wednesday night. “I understand first hand the devastation something like this can cause. And with everything at the moment we really need to support services like this that are free, accessible to everybody and take care of the vulnerable.”

You can talk to a Pieta House therapist any time, day or night on 1800 247 247, or text HELP to 51444. Donations can be made to the charity on its website www.pieta.ie/support-our-work/donate/.