Readers' View: 'Too many are being lost. We need to break the stigma and silence around suicide'

Suicide is not an easy subject to talk about but that’s all the more reason to do so. Too many loved ones are being lost. Too many of our children, our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, friends, and colleagues. We’ve made huge progress as a country but it’s clear so much more is needed, not just in terms of services, but also how we speak about suicide.

I have first-hand experience of the type of darkness that leads many people to despair. I nearly lost my life as a result, and with that, all the beautiful moments that I have experienced since

All those life adventures with my wonderful husband, the birth of my precious children, and the journey that led me to found Suicide or Survive back in 2003.

Coming so close to losing it all allowed me to experience the sense of harrowing hopelessness that so many people face when they are struggling to hold on. It gave me a raw insight into the challenges of seeking help in our culture, and the gaps in our services. I got to see how people are often seen as a problem more than a person and how our humanity can become invisible in an overly medicalised system where too often love and compassion can be lost.

Recognising that things needed to change lit a fire under me and has helped me be part of a very real and growing movement for change. It led me to travel the length and breadth of this country working with incredible community partners as part of our shared vision to transform how we see suicide in Ireland. Together we are shining a light on what was once forced to be hidden in secrecy and shadows.

Partnership and collaboration is key to this change as ultimately we are stronger together than we are apart. To have the HSE’s National Office of Suicide Prevention join us has been one of the highlights of the journey so far. We’re all aware that we need systemic change and now we have people working at the highest levels joining us to help us to continue to implement this change at a grassroots level.

Where this really comes into practice is in our Eden Programme, which provides a unique and safe space for those who have attempted suicide or have suicidal thoughts. Eden is a pioneering, tried and tested programme that offers a welcoming, safe and supportive weekly group environment over a 6 monthly period.

In this, up to sixteen participants come together to bring awareness to their own psychological states and develop tools to manage their own wellness. This involves developing resilience and coping skills and highlighting a range of supports in the community that allow participants to move away from suicide as an option of first choice in a time of crisis.

Eden acknowledges that it may take time for participants to look at the possibility of life rather than death. We recognise that the journey to healing cannot be rushed.

It has been comprehensively evaluated by Dublin City University and is widely regarded as a successful intervention that offers a unique community based support. It also advances goals 1 and 3 of the Connecting for Life national strategy to reduce suicide. It is currently being offered with HSE partners in Dublin, Galway, Mayo and Roscommon and it is our hope that other regions will offer it in the months and years ahead.

Key to why Eden works is the fact that it empowers participants to make appropriate choices in terms of their day to day lives, and in particular during times of emotional crisis. This increases awareness of suicide and suicide prevention while addressing the stigma around mental health and reducing the potential loss of life.

The focus on choice here is key. Too often people are dictated to and told what is best for them, without allowing for individual choice in terms of what might work best for them. This is central to our ethos of empowerment, in respecting people, acknowledging them, and really seeing and hearing them.

This community based approach to suicide prevention is crucial if we are to continue breaking the silence and ending the stigma. At the heart of it is empathy and connection, and taking the time to really hear what is going on for people. This equips people to look at saving their own lives when in times of crisis and also saves resources that are badly needed in other areas of our health services.

We are all on our own unique journey in life. For us some of us that ends up with suicide seeming like an option but this needn’t be the case. Darkness and despair can come to us all but the right space and support can offer huge healing

I have experienced what it feels like to lose all hope but I am also proof that a brighter future is possible. I know that we all have the power to turn things around for ourselves. What I want now is that we do this for our country. I want us to shine a light on suicide. A light that is so fierce and so bright that nobody need suffer in silence. To do this we need to be brave, to open up to those conversations and issues that call for our attention. When we do, brighter days await us all.

Caroline McGuigan. Founder and CEO of Suicide or Survive.

For more information about the Eden programme go to https://suicideorsurvive.ie/?password-protected=login&redirect_to=https%3A%2F%2Fsuicideorsurvive.ie%2F.

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