Long and winding road from loneliness

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death worldwide.

Rates are higher in men than in women. It has been estimated that there are 10 to 20 million non-fatal attempted suicides every year. And these attempts are more common in the young and females.

Throughout history, views on suicide have been affected by the prevailing attitudes toward religion, honour, the perceived meaning of life and its sanctity. Factors that can affect the risk of suicide may include psychiatric disorders, drug misuse, psychological issues or cultural family and social situations.

Socio-economic factors such as unemployment, poverty, homelessness and discrimination can also be risk factors. Smoking has also been associated with increasing the risk of suicide although to-date, there is little empirical evidence as to why this should be so.

However, it has been hypothesized that smoking causes health problems, which may lead people to contemplate suicide. Smoking is also known to adversely affect the brain chemistry.

Even the most cursory examination of this most painful of topics makes it obvious that this is an extraordinarily complex issue. There are no simple answers that can explain why a person ends their lives. And this, of course, means that helping those who are at risk is particularly difficult.

The victims of suicide are not bad, crazy, weak or flawed. In his book, Out of the Nightmare, David Conroy (PhD) believes that suicide happens when pain exceeds a person’s capacity for coping with pain.

“The point at which pain becomes unbearable depends on what kind of coping resources a person has. Suicide is not a defect of character. It is morally neutral. It is simply an imbalance of pain versus individual coping resources.”

The irony is, however, that relief is a feeling. So seeking relief from pain through suicide means a person will never actually feel that relief they are so desperate for.

A recent cross-border report shows that the rate of suicide among young people on the island of Ireland is one of the highest of Europe. The jointly funded report found that the high numbers in both jurisdictions coincides with the economic downturn and rising levels of unemployment.

The report’s author, Dr Noel Richardson said that there could be no quick-fix solutions to these grave statistics.

“There needs to be a concerted effort to engage more effectively and in a more sustained way with young men, and to plan services and programmes with them in mind.”

Alcohol and other forms of substance abuse and cyber bullying are factors that are frequently cited in suicides. And while there is currently more help available than ever before, for those who live in rural areas, that help may be difficult to access.

Rural dwellers who seek help through their GP or other services may also feel that they run the risk of being “found out” and talked about by their neighbours.

Unfortunately, the stigma that surrounds suicide is still prevalent, yet if a person were drowning and realised that their life was in danger they would not think twice about calling for help.

And it is highly unlikely that someone would ever advise a friend to end his or her own lives. They would, instead, support and comfort them, and help them to get the professional help that they needed. Life can be especially difficult for the family and friends of those who have been bereaved by suicide.

They have many complex and painful issues to deal with. Professional help and support can be essential as they attempt to come to terms with the devastating and long-term impact of their loss.

Loinnir (ray of light) is an organisation started in West Cork by two psychotherapists in response to the need in this area. Their 10-week course started on Mar 26 in Beara’s Caha Centre. Loinnir co-founder Sean Linehan told me about their programme.

*When did yourself and Clare O’Reilly start Loinnir?

>>“It was in 2007 and it began because of the need in the West Cork area. Today there are Loinnir programmes running in Charleville, Clonakilty, and Dunmanway Cork City. We are starting up in Mallow and Youghal. The main purpose of a Loinnir group is to facilitate the grieving process by providing a safe, tolerant and empathic environment where bereaved people can be themselves with others who have had similar experiences.”

*It must be hugely important for people who have suffered such a terrible bereavement to be able to talk to people who know just how they are feeling.

>>“Yes, it really is. They share each other’s loss and grief, look for answers and live with the not-knowing-why. And they receive — and provide — mutual support. The group assists in normalising experiences, reducing the stigma that is often associated with a suicide death, supports people as they go through the grieving process and assists them as they adjust to living without their loved one who has died.”

*It must be very difficult at first for people to express these complicated feelings.

>>“Yes it is. but after they have taken that first step, it becomes easier. We run a 10-week programme and after that, a monthly meeting. And as a support group, we also work to reduce the sense of isolation that is so often felt by those who have been bereaved by suicide. Attendance at group meetings can help build inner strength, develop new coping skills and strengthen the capacity of the group to help one another.”

*What issues do you find are the most difficult for people who have been bereaved by suicide to deal with?

>>“It can be the most awful legacy for people. And it can take over their lives. Often it can be difficult for people to express their anger with the person who has died. But for a lot of people it is that feeling that they could — or should — have done more. And yet the truth is that this may not have been possible. The person they lost had an illness. That feeling of powerlessness that the bereaved suffer can be very complex.

There is no fee for the programme. If you or a family member or someone you know has been bereaved by suicide and would like more information, please contact us. We operate under a strict policy of confidentiality.”


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