Reaching out is key to preventing suicide

Today, 10th September, is World Suicide Prevention Day. Reaching out for help or reaching out to help – even with a few simple words – can save lives.

Image: Aware on Facebook.

Yesterday, my doctor asked me straight out: “Are you suicidal?” I was talking to him, among other things, about the resurgence of depression I’ve experienced since being hit by a car four weeks ago. As low as I’ve been at times lately, the question still took me a little by surprise. I didn’t have to think about the answer. I told him straight out: “No.”

That answer doesn’t come as easy to everyone. Worryingly, the opposite answer comes too easily to many people. And more worryingly still, some of those people feel they need to keep that answer to themselves. Every year, more than 800,000 people worldwide die by suicide – about 1 person every 40 seconds – and for every one person who dies, there are over 20 more people who attempt to. It doesn’t have to happen.

Reaching Out and Saving Lives is the theme of this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day. In her video message to launch the day, Prof. Ella Arensman, President of the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) pointed out that:

“For many people who survive a suicide attempt, their main intent was not to die but to have a different life. This important insight should encourage all of us… to reach out to support people improving their quality of life.”

In the Mind Matters section of this blog, I’ve written quite a bit about how important communication is in not only breaking down the stigma around mental health issues but also breaking down the isolation that is so often at the heart of depression. When depression gets to the life-and-death level of suicide, that communication becomes the most urgent and maybe most powerful tool in saving people’s lives. The recent story of the Dublin teenager who asked a suicidal man “Are you okay?” is testament to that.

That’s the beginning of reaching out. Even just those three words. And it can work either way. Whether you are worried for someone else’s safety or whether you are worried for your own, three words – “Are you okay?” or “I’m not okay” – could quite literally save a person’s life. It can be the beginning of that different life. Instead of dying, that man is now expecting a child, already named after the kid who asked him if he was okay.

Don’t wait for someone to reach out to you. Whether you’re reaching out to help or reaching out for help, you can always reach out first.

Image: Aware on Facebook
Image: Aware on Facebook

Here are some useful links and resources.

There are plenty of mental health and suicide prevention organisations and groups in Ireland. If you or someone you know needs to, please get in touch with one of these organisations, or find the ones local to you.

Pieta House:  step-by-step action plans and immediate supports both for people who are self-harming or suicidal and for people who are worried about a friend.

Aware: Depression, anxiety and bipolar support and information. Suicide Hotline: 1890 303 302

Samaritans: Phone, text or face-to-face emotional support. Suicide Hotline116123, Text 0872609090

Console: Counselling, bereavement support, support groups. Suicide Hotline: 1800 247 247 or text HELP to 51444

Reach Out (online youth mental health service)

HSE mental health website:


Robin Williams: Mork’s isolated egg of depression

“I don’t know how much value I have in this universe, but I do know I made a few people happier than they would have been without me.”


Mork from Ork

It’s been a long while since I have posted here, blogging taking a back seat to some bigger and less visible writing projects. With these now mostly under control, I have been getting ready for a reboot, though I hadn’t yet decided when exactly to do so. This morning’s news of Robin Williams’ apparent suicide seems to have been the unexpected incitement that said ‘now is as good a time as any’. If you have something to say, say it now. As his Mr Keating would have exhorted me, carpe diem. Continue reading

Camus at 100: “Live to the point of tears”

The absurdist philosophy of Albert Camus held that life had inherent worth, even if it had no inherent meaning  – a notion that has important parallels in approaching depression and suicide.

Camus, 1957. Credit: Robert Edwards
Camus, 1957. Credit: Robert Edwards

But for the absurd existence of a tree, Albert Camus may or may not have celebrated his 100th birthday last week. That might seem a glib way to reference a man’s tragic death, but somehow, I think Camus would have approved. He may even have thought it particularly apt that, given his philosophy, he should have his existence so abruptly and randomly snuffed out.

A French-Algerian novelist, playwright, journalist, essayist, philosopher and revolutionary, Albert Camus is a hero to me. Without any hyperbole or exaggeration, his words – and the fervid thought behind them – changed my life for good. The ambiguity of that last word is deliberate. It may seem odd to say my life was changed for the good by someone who held that life was meaningless. But that is the point. For Camus, life is good precisely despite its meaninglessness.

Continue reading

Are you ok?

After World Suicide Prevention Day on Tuesday last, my good friend Lauren Foley has posted a great piece about an Australian follow-up. Yesterday down under was R U OK? Day, which sounds like an good approach to the stigma many people feel in opening up about depression and mental health issues – taking the first step to let them know it’s ok to open up.

I’ve written here before about the importance of talking, and of friends and family, in dealing with mental heath issues, and I think asking people “Are you ok?” is something we could all do with putting into practice with friends and family any and every day.

Have a read of Lauren’s post, and take a note of the resources she’s listed at the end.

A Year in South Australia

Yesterday, I discovered that today is R U OK? DAY in Australia, it is:

“A national day of action on the second Thursday of September (12 September 2013), dedicated to reminding people to regularly check in with family and friends.”

It is a mental health initiative in support of suicide awareness and prevention. In Ireland we have a comparable initiative Darkness into Light from the highly commendable organisation Pieta House.

I personally know a handful of people who have committed suicide. Or should that be I personally knew? It’s one of those topics it’s easy to be unaccustomed to discussing openly, isn’t it? Suicide. The people I knew were all contemporaries of mine, we were all born in the same decade, some I knew very well, others I knew more loosely as friends or acquaintances. It is odd, reflecting on them openly now, how they have unthinkingly become a…

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Anxiety & depression: Music helps but friends are the key to surviving the setbacks

Picture0007aI woke up this morning with a Bruce Springsteen song in my head (one that – coincidentally or not – begins with the same five words as this post). A song about failing to learn from experience and making the same old mistakes, “One Step Up” is heartrending in its simplicity and its complexity. And in spite of its ‘80s drum machine beat and the cliché Springsteen deliberately builds its concept around. The song applies the hackneyed phrase “one step up [read: forward] and two steps back” first to the acrimonious collapse of a marriage, and then to the singer’s feeling of failure and faltering self-image.

The reason it was in my head this morning (aside from those opening five words) is that  I suffered an unexpected setback just at the point when I felt I had everything under control. Continue reading

Travel standing still: Seeing Dublin with different eyes

Dublin, westward along the Liffey, from Seán O'Casey Bridge
Dublin, westward along the Liffey, from Seán O’Casey Bridge

I didn’t think I’d be here. A few months ago, sitting on the balcony of my ninth-storey flat, looking out over Brighton, past the flamboyant Pavilion to the open sea, I would never have guessed that I’d so soon be living back in Dublin, where I’ve spent almost all of my life.

I love Brighton. It is a vibrant, lively, interesting city – small enough to have a real sense of community, but not so small that you feel enclosed. Not that you could feel enclosed in a city whose thriving heart opens right out onto the seafront. I lived there just long enough for it to become familiar, but without yet having lost that sense of novelty.

I could feel bitter and disappointed. I could sit around moping about being stuck here when I’d rather be there. But if I did, it would undermine the positives gained from the reason why I stayed here in the first place. One of the great things that I’ve developed over the past three months of counselling is a sense of acceptance of where I am right now, instead of regret or longing for where I could be. For now, and for what it’s worth, I’m in Dublin.
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Beyond sticks and stones: Bullying and mental health


Last week, I wrote about the increasing discourse around depression, anxiety and mental health issues. There has also been some very welcome recent publicity around one of the major causes of those issues: bullying. An ISPCC campaign, a cyberbullying awareness event in Limerick and parliamentary discussions have taken place against a backdrop of some disturbing high-profile media stories at home and in the US.

Lasting impact

Bullying can have a devastating impact on mental health, and not just in childhood – the repercussions can reverberate on throughout adult life. For me, the bullying ended more than 20 years ago, yet it is only now, and with professional help, that I am really starting to deal with how it affected, and continues to affect, me. Continue reading