Clergy dealing with suicide becoming ‘sacramental firemen’

Priest speaks on radio about tragedy of seven suicides in just three weeks in Co Laois

Last month, five young men died by suicide in Newbridge, Co Kildare. File photograph: Getty Images

Last month, five young men died by suicide in Newbridge, Co Kildare. File photograph: Getty Images

 

A priest speaking out about the tragedy of seven suicides in three weeks in Co Laois has said the clergy are becoming “sacramental firemen” going from one crisis to another.

Portlaoise curate Fr Paddy Byrne explained the suicides had all taken place in the wider Co Laois area this month.

Another person had taken their life in March, taking the total to eight.

“The whole thing is about talking and yet it’s so difficult to talk,” he told The Irish Times. “I do think people are quite alone in Irish society.

“My fear would be as a pastor working on the ground that I could become desensitised to the horrific reality that people are taking their lives in such numbers.”

The recent suicides affected much of the county - Mountmellick, Rosenallis, Clonaslee, Stradbally and Portlaoise. One of the eight deceased is to be buried today.

Last month, five young men died by suicide in Newbridge, Co Kildare.

Fr Byrne, who spoke on RTÉ’s Liveline on Wednesday to highlight the situation, was in part motivated to come forward following the revelations that millions of euro was to be diverted from the mental health services budget - a move opposed by the Minister of State with responsibility for the area, Kathleen Lynch.

“In the past when I was celebrating suicide Masses, the majority would be young men. Now, in terms of gender, it’s both male and female. It’s middle-aged men and more mature women,” Fr Byrne said.

The recent cases included people in their early 20s and 50s.

A chaplain in two secondary schools and at Portlaoise Hospital, Fr Byrne said his views reflected both a Christian and humanitarian perspective.

Almost every week

Likening the clergy to sacramental firemen he said: “Unfortunately, [suicide] is almost an every-week occurrence.

“It’s something that we can’t forget is happening in society.”

He said suicide was so sad to witness at first hand, “the huge void in people’s lives, the huge bereavement”.

“People who carry the cross of mental illness - while we are progressing as a society there is a certain stigma to it. I would say it’s absolutely OK not to be OK.”

Mental health supports can successfully address people’s problems, he said, where they exist. However, not everyone can afford the price of a private counsellor.

He also said the confessional, while now a virtual “relic of the past”, had been a place where many could talk through their difficulties. Ireland was facing a deficit in spiritual exploration, he said.

“There is a poverty of hope because of life choices and an increase in secular life. Are we nourishing our spiritual life? Without hope we are living in basically nihilism where there is no hope.”

* If you, or someone you know, needs someone to talk to, contact Samaritans on 116 123, or email jo@samaritans.org; www.yourmentalhealth.ie has a directory of mental health services.