Suicide lifeline demand doubles

Suicide lifeline demand doubles

12 September 2018

DEMAND for suicide prevention support in the area has doubled in the past year, a local charity has claimed.

PIPS Downpatrick says it has already helped twice as many local people to date this year than throughout 2017.

More young people between the age of 14-18 are in need of help, with some children as young as nine having severe problems with anxiety and low self esteem.

As World Suicide Prevention Day was marked on Monday, the volunteer-run charity run is bracing itself for the busiest month of the year.

PIPS volunteer Brenda McAteer said: “October is the worst month of the year for us, not December as some might think.

“It has just been horrendously busy over the last three years. We always brace ourselves as the nights turn darker and the summer ends and financial pressures began to pile on.”

She says that the numbers of young people and their parents reaching out for help have also dramatically increased over the last 18 months.

“We get two to three new referrals each week. I don’t think I’ve had a call that wasn’t related to anxiety in the last two years,” said Brenda.

“From the age of 14-18, it’s mostly girls we help but over 18, it’s mostly young men. The pressure that young people are under to do well academically and strive for A grades is unbelievable.

“Striving for success is great but at what cost to your mental health?”

Brenda says that deaths by suicide in Downpatrick, Killyleagh and Ballynahinch are worrying high, but low in comparison to the rest of Northern Ireland.

“One death is always one too many,” she said. “We will continue to do what we can to make sure it is eradicated.”

By working with young people at an early stage, PIPS hopes it can reduce the impact on further generations.

PIPS Downpatrick is spearheaded by the family of the late Gerard McAteer, from Killough, who was only 23 when he took his own life in 2003. His death rocked his close-knit family.

Numbed by the loss and needing help and support to deal with it, Gerard’s mother, Josephine, realised that more needed to be done to help others potentially at risk and their families.

By reaching out to other families who had lost loved ones, Josephine founded PIPS 14 years ago.

The family suffered another major loss six years after Gerard’s death when his brother Michael was discovered to have a large brain tumour, and died 12 months later aged 31.

The charity now covers the costs of a trained counsellor and therapists to provide immediate and free support where it is needed.

Josephine’s daughter, Brenda, works as a volunteer along with her mother, brother Padraig and sister-in-law Andrea.

“We offer a very bespoke service of counselling, holistic therapies, mentoring and meditation classes at the Ballymote Sports and Wellbeing Centre and at South Eastern Regional College offices,” she said.

“We have no waiting list and we can have a counsellor contacting the person to sit up an appointment within 24 hours of referral.”

The service also holds specialised training sessions for people in all walks of life who may often come in contact with people in need of help.

The training helps them recognise the markets of someone who is feeling very low and potentially suicidal, adds Brenda.

She says that PIPS Downpatrick could not operate without the continued generous support of the local community.

Ten years yesterday Philip ‘Waldo’ Wallace took his own life at the age of 27. A jam session at Mullan’s Bar in Church Street, Downpatrick, on Sunday night was held in memory of Waldo and raised just over £1,000 for PIPS.

Nine years ago, his big brother Sean raised a similar amount from another event. He was helped by good friend and tireless PIPS supporter Patrick Buchanan, whose fundraiser at The Lobster Pot in Strangford a few years ago raised around £10,000.

Sean believes that it’s not only important to financially support PIPS but also to highlight the help it can give. 

“It was fitting for us to hold the jam session at Mullan’s as Philip used to work there,” he said.

“I personally wasn’t aware of PIPS and what they can offer until after his death but I think that everyone should be aware of them.

“I would say to anyone to just get help. I know that sometimes people think that that they are in a dark hole but the help is there.”

Also to mark World Suicide Prevention Day, a ‘Downpatrick 1KM Walk for Life’ event will take place at Dunleath Park on Sunday from 2-5pm. Information on mental health, suicide prevention and bereavement will be available.

Anyone in distress or despair can ring PIPS Downpatrick on 07845 564134 or the emergency helpline Lifeline on 0808 808 8000.