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:

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

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.

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

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

Anxiety, mental health and me

Greater awareness and openness is destigmatising talk of mental health and depression. But are mental and emotional problems becoming endemic?

On the fourth day of Christmas, my father said to me: “I think you are heading for a nervous breakdown.”

He would know, having gone through one himself forty years ago, and as soon as he said it, I knew too. I had watched someone else I love suffer a terrifying breakdown just seven months earlier. Now, I could recognise in me the beginnings of what I had seen in her – the breathlessness, the shaking, the rising panic, the gathering hopelessness. I had seen where that could lead. I wasn’t anywhere near as bad yet, but I could see that if I didn’t do something, I very well soon could be. On New Year’s Eve, I paid my first visit to a counselling psychologist.

A couple of weeks later, I wrote a piece here on the merits of New Year’s resolutions. At the time, I hardly realised that I had made a resolution of my own, a difficult and daunting resolution at a huge personal cost. For the first time in my life, I was resolving to put my mental health before my job, my relationship, my life in England – for the moment at least, I was giving up my life as I knew it.
Continue reading