My cousin took her own life a couple of years ago. Her husband came home one day to discover her body. This was a lovely cheerful girl with a sparkling personality; she had a zest for life that lit up every room she entered. That’s what I remembered, but I didn’t inhabit her daily life and didn’t know she was troubled, that had been some concern about her.
Her death came not long after her father died following an illness, so her mother, brothers and sisters were devastated. How could she have taken her own life we wondered? She had seemed so happy.
And yet, suicide is all around us. In an estate not far from here a young man was discovered hanging from a tree. A friend’s sister disappeared, but days later her body was discovered in a wood. Another friend booked her holiday and was then found dead. Another organised his affairs and made his will before his brother discovered his body. There had been no warning, no hint that anything was troubling him. A teenager we knew rang his friends to say where they could find him. And these are just some of the cases I know of. I could be here a while going through the list.
A few years ago I saw a photo that deeply disturbed me. It was taken by one of our photographers on his way to work one morning. It was of a young main dressed in trademark tracksuit and runners hanging in the docks area. Of course it wasn’t published, but it got me thinking in a way that no article or statistic can about the grim reality of suicide. This young man may have left behind a wife, perhaps children, parents, brothers, sisters and many friends, all of whom would be devastated by his passing.
I wrote recently about the death by suicide of Mathis Ellerbe, my American pen pal’s son who had been battling post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in battle zones with the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was only 30. His death reminded me that suicide isn’t just an Irish phenomenon, but the statistics here are grim.
According to the most recent figures available for 2012, some 507 people took their own lives in Ireland – 413 men and 94 women. Sadly, the highest numbers were in my home county of Cork: between 2007-2012 the rate was 18.2 per 100,000. It’s no consolation that the 2012 figure is 48 lower than 2011 as figures fluctuate wildly. And there is evidence to suggest that we may be underestimating the true numbers.
Imagine, 507 suicides in 2012. Think of that number and then consider that in the same year 53 people were murdered in Ireland and 162 died on our roads. The fact is the media focussed a hell of a lot more attention on the latter figures and hardly any on suicides. We need to start a proper conversation about the grim toll, how we can prevent suicides, and the immense impact on the families and friends left behind to cope with their grief.
At one stage in my battle against depression I contemplated suicide. I just felt there was no future for a guy who was facially disfigured, that my later life would be one of loneliness and misery. So for a time I considered ending my life. Fortunately, my life took a turn for the better. I wrote about that experience here.
There are many factors that lead to suicide, including social isolation, unemployment, depression, relationship issues, alcohol or drugs. We should make the effort to stay in touch with friends and family because who knows who among them may be troubled. A kind word can mean a lot, showing that we care. Trying to include people in our lives can also help. Sometimes the signs can be obvious but not always. Watch out for your loved ones. A phone call, stopping for a coffee sometimes can make all the difference.
September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day so it’s time to reflect on how you can help.
Useful Irish numbers:
Console 1800 247247
Childline 1800 666666