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. http://www.aware.ie

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 www.aware.ie
Image: Aware on Facebook http://www.aware.ie

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. www.pieta.ie

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

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

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

Reach Out (online youth mental health service) ie.reachout.com

HSE mental health website: www.yourmentalhealth.ie

Societal shift: When Ireland came out for equality

Even before the marriage equality referendum, the Yes campaign had already raised the status of LGBT people in Irish society for good

Photo credit: © Brian Lawless/Newscom

After casting my vote for marriage equality last week, I took off at dawn on Saturday to spend a few days with my godson and his parents. Other than a few snatched moments of internet access, I had little connection to what was happening at home. But I talked with my friends about what was happening, about what I hoped and what I feared might happen. I told my godson’s father about how I was worried the vote would be a lot closer than the polls showed, that a silent No vote could hold sway. He said something that gave me some hope. He said that even if it came to the worst, even if it was a No, it wouldn’t be a No for long. Eventually, he predicted, equality would come, because something amazing had already happened and Irish society had already changed.

I knew he was right. I’d seen that change. We’ve all see it. Over the last few months, Ireland’s LGBT community has come out en masse – with all the uncertain and nerve-wracking courage and bravery that must take – come out to ask for acceptance. Not tolerancea distinction made brilliantly by American activist Ash Beckham – but acceptance, to be inclusively treated as equal citizens in Irish society. There was no ignoring or denying the scale of that movement: Yes or No on the day, the closet door was open for good.

Continue reading

Eco Logic: Approaching a sustainable future for Ireland

Note: This post was written as part of the World Bank Group’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided. It serves as an introduction to this  blog’s new Eco Logic tab and a portal to the five Climate Conversations posts
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Ireland is neither the most vulnerable not the responsible country when it comes to climate change. But like every country, climate change will – and already is – having an impact. We have a role to play minimising that impact, both on our own shores and as part of a global effort.

As an island, Ireland is vulnerable to sea level rise, and to flooding and extreme coastal erosion due to Atlantic storm surges – as was witnessed by a series of storms in the winter of 2013/4. Such events are already occurring with greater frequency well before we reach even 1 degree of the projected 2-4 dregree global mean temperature rise.

There are, however, great opportunities for Ireland in adapting to its changing climate. Continue reading

What would Jesus vote?

As Ireland votes on marriage equality, is the religious objection really as clear-cut as it seems?

Yesterday, someone very close to me said that, because of his religious beliefs he couldn’t bring himself to vote Yes. He had made his mind up to vote No because he believed it was what Jesus would do.

Two women kiss outside Trinity College Dublin as a ‘no’ protestor waves a placard above their heads. James Delaney/Twitter

I left the religious issue out of yesterday’s post because this is a referendum purely on the issue of civil marriage and that is what we need to focus on. But the reality is, many people will vote based on religious beliefs. In pamphlets, statements and homilies, bishops and priests have advised mass-goers to vote No, to preserve traditional religious understandings of marriage, even though religious marriage is not at stake in this referendum. For many people who believe they have God on their side, the rest of the discussion is irrelevant.

I was a Christian myself for the first 19 years of my life, but I’ve been an atheist for the last 19 and so I don’t have anyone quite of the status of Jesus to offer as an alternative voice. But I do still wonder: Would Jesus really vote No? Continue reading

Gather yourselves: Climate Conversations V

The end of Climate Conversations is the beginning of the real process

It was fitting for Climate Conversations to wind up its five-session, eight-week process in the Abbey Theatre. Since its inception by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory in 1904, The Abbey’s artistic policy has set out “to produce… diverse, engaging, innovative Irish and international theatre”. Climate Conversations could be said to have set out to shape a “diverse, engaging and innovative” Irish response to an international – or rather, global – threat. Given the commitment to engage the creative thinking of the artistic community in the conversations, it was apt that the same artist who spoke at the opening session, Emily Robyn-Archer, returned to create an art piece on stage as this final conversation progressed. And it was fitting that the first speaker at the Abbey Theatre was an abbot.

Change the mythology

Mark Patrick Hederman, Abbot of Glenstal Abbey, reminisced about watching the first men walking on the moon – an event that “destroyed the many-thousand-year-old mythology about the moon – and about ourselves”. There was no man in the moon, he said. Like our earth, it was just “a piece of floating rock”. I was reminded of the famous “pale blue dot” photo of Earth from 6 billion kilometres away, of the mind-altering “overview effect” experienced by astronauts who have seen the planet from the outside. Now, Dom Hederman said, we have to change the mythology yet again, because “the whole wide world now placed in [our] hands is a hand grenade with the pin out, and the time-bomb of the twenty-first century is ticking away.” Continue reading

Faith, atheism and climate justice: Climate Conversations IV

Floods on the Ganges River, submerge a statue of the Hindu god Shiva. Rishikesh, India June 16-17, 2013
Floods on the Ganges River, submerge a statue of the Hindu god Shiva. Rishikesh, India June 16-17, 2013

As an atheist (albeit with a recent curiosity for Buddhism), I approached the fourth in the series of Climate Conversations – Prophetic Voices – with some trepidation. Though the main two NGOs involved – Trócaire and Christian Aid – are overtly faith-based organisations, Climate Conversations has so far focused squarely on the practical and empirical challenges of climate change, with only a brief and rather esoteric homily early in the first session. I have a lot of admiration for Christian Aid and Trócaire in tackling global poverty and inequality. While they are motivated by Christian beliefs, they don’t seek to impose those beliefs and they conduct their development work responsibly and equitably. But what concerned me about this session of Climate Conversations – introduced as a “reflective space” ahead of the final call to action – was its explicit focus on the place of faith in addressing climate change.

I had two fears. First, that the pragmatic, down-to-earth approach of previous sessions would give way to vague and nebulous idealism. Second, that what thusfar had been an all-encompassing and inclusive process would be effectively ringfenced for the religious, with the non-religious nominally welcome but tacitly excluded. My hope, however, was that the discussion would be more philosophical than explicitly religious – that the reflection would focus on our moral and ethical responsibilities to act, rather than on divine expectations or imperatives; that it would envision a common human endeavour that transcended the divisions of different faiths. In the end, I got perhaps the best that could have been expected – an uneasy balance between what I hoped and what I feared.

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Living with enough is our task and duty: Climate Conversations III

As if there were no end to plenty
we plundered earth.

Peter Fallon, “Late Sentinels

Image: Climate Ireland
Image: Climate Ireland

This line from poet-farmer Peter Fallon, quoted at the close of the third session of Climate Conversations, captured the root of the climate crisis perfectly. It is a line that beautifully encompasses the imbalance of human acquisitiveness and the finite resources we draw on. The words “as if” illustrate the mistake in our thinking, in our assumption that our actions are without consequences. Whether that mistake is deliberate or accidental, the result of the plunder is the same, and the need to redress it just as urgent. It is what Peter Fallon’s poem goes on to call “the mandatory sentence/that became our task and duty.”

This session – The Sustainable Use of Our Land – highlighted the scale of the challenge for Ireland and the quandaries and dilemmas we will face in restructuring our own economy, in which agricultural food production plays such a huge role. Continue reading

Building a sustainable economy: Climate Conversations II

Sen. James Inhofe and his hard evidence that global warming is a myth

“Do you know what this is?” Senator Jim Inhofe, standing in front of a picture of his snow-bound family, holds up a snowball and tosses it to the sitting president of the US Senate. “It’s a snowball… It’s very, very cold out.”

This was his supposedly damning evidence last week against the reports that 2014 was globally the warmest year on record, his proof that climate change was a hoax. That a senior politician in the world’s only superpower is still incapable of grasping the primary-school difference between day-to-day localised weather and long-run global climate trends is astonishing. As world leaders blunder from one failed climate summit to the next, wasting what little time and opportunity remains to avoid the worst of the ecological crisis we face, such fatuous irresponsibility at such high legislative levels almost leads me to despair. Almost. At the very least, it is deeply frustrating.

At the end of the inaugural meeting of Climate Conversations, the 300-strong audience in Dublin’s Liberty Hall were asked to write one word that summed up how they felt about the subject of climate change. Though there were many varying responses, frustration was the dominant sense.

In an excellent, stark and comprehensive article in today’s Guardian, Larry Elliot not only captures the root of that frustration, but also what is needed to overcome it. “Can we imagine a future that is cleaner, greener and sustainable,” he writes, “without abandoning the idea of growth and, thus, forcing living standards into decline?… It will be hellishly difficult, but it is just about feasible if we make the right choices – and start making them now.”

Climate Conversations – a series of discussions between trade unions, businesses, politicians, civil society and the public – sets out to discuss the right choices for Ireland. Continue reading

Dunnes Stores on strike: A worker’s view

As union staff at 109 Dunnes Stores branches go on strike today, the chain’s one-day online sale seems more than a little desperate. It comes across as a brazen attempt to keep people shopping without having to cross a picket line, without having to face the people who are affected by Dunnes’ contemptible working hours and practices. But it is also suggests the employer is rattled. They have good reason to be, given Dunnes workers’ history of civil rights activism.

Have a read of this account of a Dunnes worker, explaining why they have no choice but to strike and demonstrating that same spirit of solidarity. And if you come across the picketers today, show them some solidarity of your own and sign the petition.

Decency for Dunnes Workers

I’m writing this to ask everyone working in Dunnes to support our strike this Thursday.

“I’ve never been one for getting really involved in the union, and never thought I’d be writing something like this or going on strike.

I’ve worked in Dunnes for 9 years, like most staff I’m on a 15 hour flexi contract. I’m the main earner in our house. My partner works for Dunnes aswell, but most weeks he only gets the 15 hours. We’ve a 2 year old daughter and she never wants for anything. I make sure of that. It means there’s weeks where me and Keith genuinely go hungry, or my Mam does a shop for us. It’s embarrassing. I’m a grown woman and I have a job. That job should give me enough money that I can afford to feed my family and pay my bills. On this contract I’m picking one…

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Earth Hour is tonight: Lights off for climate action

When the clocks go forward tonight, we’re going to lose an hour’s sleep, but that’s the short-term trade-off for the long-term benefit of six months of brighter evenings. It’s worth it. Tonight also marks Earth Hour, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) global event to call for action on climate change. At 8:30pm local time, landmarks around the world – including Sydney Opera House, the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower – will be darkened for an hour. People around the world are urged to make a point of switching off all non-essential lights and electricity for that hour or to get involved in local Earth Hour events. It might sound gimmicky and it has been criticised for making a negligible impact, but that is not the point. Earth Hour is intended as a symbolic event – it is more about the bigger statement than the immediate effect. In the words of UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, “Earth Hour is a way for the citizens of the world to send a clear message – they want action on climate change.”

This year – ahead of December’s critical UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris – making that message heard is more important than ever. Continue reading