Irish people reflect on the impact suicide and depression have had on their lives

Noreen Murphy, founder of Lisheens House suicide prevention service. Picture: Denis Scannell

Fears after five men take own lives in a Kildare town, says Louise McCarthy

There were no services to help me

Louise McCarthy

Noreen Murphy is from West Cork, a region hit by a suicide cluster.

Her husband, Donal, ended his life in 2007. He was 39 years old.

He left behind a widow, two teenage stepsons Tony and John, along with his 12-year-old son James.

“Donal never acknowledged that he had depression. I did not know until midway through, I started researching it on the internet,” Noreen said.

Noreen spent 14 years with Donal, but in the final two years before he died, his depression escalated beyond control. He became violent towards her and the children.

“His depression happened very quickly in 2005, he would withdraw from everyone and go to his bedroom. He was always up for work at 6.30am, he only missed one day of work, the day before he died.”

Noreen recalls how her husband, who was “suffering terribly”, became paranoid.

”He accused me of having an affair, he imagined people coming to the gate of the house were from the government.

“There was a lot of tension in the house. He hit me, once he pushed James down the stairs,” she said.

In a bid to protect her children from the turmoil, she moved them to her mother’s house.

“We were not safe at all living with him. We locked our doors at night. I had the children taken out of the house, but I would go back myself.”

Despite all of this, Noreen was determined to try and help the man she had fallen in love with. Although acting like a stranger to her, she remembered that this was not the man she had known.

“He had always been anxious, but nothing like the two years before he died.”

During all of this she juggled motherhood and working as a special needs assistant at a local school.

“It was very difficult trying to hold down a job, it was a crazy time, I don’t know how I did it.”

According to Noreen, the lack of mental health support services in West Cork at the time made her feel isolated.

“A psychiatrist told me that he was fine, her assessment involved telling me to get a divorce.”

In 2007, Donal’s body was found in St Colum’s GAA pitch, just a few minutes from the family home.

“He had not slept for a long time before he died, he was not eating. I was traumatised after his body was found. It has had a terrible effect on the boys, especially James. The effects of suicide are constant,” she said.

Looking back, Noreen feels that she could not endure it again. “I was on my own, there were no services to help me, just my mother. I now offer support to people like me. To a woman going through what I did, I would say, ‘look after yourself’, you have to consider your own mental wellbeing and that of your children. Once your partner or husband has professional help, then I would say, help him, but at a distance.”

Two years after Donal’s death, she met Mick Kearns. They joined forces to form Lisheens House in 2014. The organisation offers free counselling in rooms at Kealkil, Bantry, Skibbereen, and Bandon. It costs approximately €100,000 annually to operate the organisation. Building work started a number of weeks ago on a community-based mental health facility at Ilen St, Skibbereen, which will provide education and training and counselling free of charge when it opens in the autumn.

To contact Lisheens House, call 023 8888888.

‘You can recover, it can happen to anyone’

Louise McCarthy

Console founder Paul Kelly
Console founder Paul Kelly

A Kildare town is mourning the loss of five men who took their own lives within the past few weeks. The men range in age from early 30s to mid-40s.

Console is currently offering counselling services to people in Newbridge amid fears that a cluster of suicides could emerge, similar to those which took place in two Cork communities.

Console founder Paul Kelly, who is from Celbridge, lost his 21-year-old sister Sharon to suicide.

“We are trying to prevent suicides. Console was set up as a legacy to Sharon. She was my youngest sister, a precious and beautiful girl,” said Mr Kelly.

Console, which began in his home in Celbridge 12 years ago, has since expanded into a national organisation that offers one-to-one counselling while operating a 24-hour helpline. There are 100 trained counsellors employed, with all services offered free of charge.

Mr Kelly is concerned that suicide is now a major problem in Ireland, with more than 500 people taking their own lives annually.

Research headed by University College Cork Professor Dr Ella Arensman, in association with the National Suicide Research Foundation, of which she is a director, examined two separate suicide clusters in Co Cork communities. The research was mainly carried out using analysis of coroners’ verdict reports and postmortem results.

Cluster one involves 13 cases of suicide which occurred over a three-month period, from April to June 2011. The cluster had a radius of 23.44km. Twelve men and one woman took their lives, with an average age of 47 years. The majority of these, (69.2%) were married or cohabiting, while nearly half (46.2%) were living with partners and children.

Some 38.5% were unemployed, 30.8% were employed, while the remainder included retired, long-term disabled, and students.

In the second cluster, three men and four women, with an average age of 39, ended their own lives over a two-month period from September to October 2011. All of them had been in paid employment at the time of their deaths. The cluster had a radius of 28.06km.

Dr Arensman made several recommendations in the 2013 report in a bid to reduce the risk of further suicide clusters. Referring specifically to areas with clusters or at risk, she called for the involvement of GPs and primary care professionals in a response plan and in the early identification of people at risk of suicidal behaviour.

She said: “In terms of specific risk factors associated with suicide clustering there is the need for intensive multilevel suicide prevention programmes whereby multiple interventions are implemented with key stakeholders at the same time.”

Chief clinical officer at Pieta House, Cindy O’Connor, said 5,500 people attended their services across the country last year.

Pieta House, founded by psychologist Joan Freeman, offers free counselling to people at risk of suicide or self-harm. “At times people can be desperately low, but you can recover, it can happen to anyone,” Ms O’Connor said.

She warned that men are very unlikely to seek help, in comparison to women.

“Men very seldom make the call themselves, they genuinely think they should be able to sort it out themselves. There are many reasons that men seek our help but the main ones are job losses and relationship break-ups,” she said.

“We show people that no matter how dark things are, there is always a reason for living.”

At Pieta House, therapy is provided without the need for a GP referral.

For further information go to pieta.ie. Console can be contacted on 1800 247247

’Life is not as easy as Instagram makes out’

Joyce Fegan

Niall Munnelly: Contemplated suicide. Picture: Adrian Melia
Niall Munnelly: Contemplated suicide. Picture: Adrian Melia

Kildare man Niall Munnelly, 34, once tried to take his own life, but the attempt turned out to be the starting point from where he began his new life.

“A friend called over looking for a pair of shorts, he was going on holidays. I said: ‘Listen mate I feel like I’m going to kill myself.’ He didn’t know how to handle it and said: ‘Ah sure you’ll be grand,’ and left. That was the day I went out to the Curragh and I was planning on killing myself,” explains Niall.

“For anyone who thinks that someone who kills themselves is selfish, that’s so small-minded. You think you’re doing your family a favour because you believe you’re a hindrance. It’s a twisted way of thinking,” he adds.

“I thought if I just ran and had a severe panic attack that I’d die of a heart attack, so I kept running and running to the point where the panic attack got really severe. I kept running and I began crying and shouting. I couldn’t breathe but I kept running, thinking I was going to die but I didn’t and I stopped and went: ‘I think I’m after beating a panic attack.’ My brain registered that I was after beating it this way. I went home, got all the tablets and threw them in the bin and said to my dad: ‘That’s it, I’m not on medication anymore, I’m going to beat this’.”

What brought Niall to this point was the Celtic Tiger and not the recession.

“Things were flying. On a Saturday you wouldn’t get out of bed for less than €500 a day, that’s more than my wages now. I had two guys I was subcontracting off, getting €40 an hour or else paid by the house which was €1,000 a week.

“People think people come down with depression when they lose their house or are in trouble with the bank or life is going bad for them, but looking back on it now, I owned a two-bedroomed penthouse in Dublin, I was driving around in a Land Rover, I had a van. From the outside looking in you’d think: ‘This guy has a nice lifestyle,’ but inside it was a different story. The outside didn’t match the inside and that’s what people don’t understand. I had all the money in the world but I’d go out and party and spend it on stupid stuff and I just ended up in a hole,” says Niall.

Despite the apparent trappings of success and his financial fortitude, this wasn’t the life he had planned for himself.

Today, Niall runs the successful Performance and Fitness Academy in Naas, Co Kildare.

“Just move and be healthy and happy with yourself no matter what you see in the mirror is the right way of thinking.

“Life is hard, it’s not as easy as Instagram makes out, stop looking at fictional people who are portraying this perfect life. Don’t look at other people’s lives and want to live like them, make yourself happy by what you have going on,” says Niall.

His main piece of advice to anyone feeling suicidal is to use perspective.

“Don’t make a permanent decision on a temporary emotion. No matter how bad a situation is, it’s only a situation. No matter how bad a problem is it’s only a problem. It usually goes away after a few weeks or a few months,” he says.

The 5km ‘You’re Not Alone’ fun run takes place in the Curragh at 11am on June 19, in aid of Hope (D), a Kildare charity helping people with depression and suicide bereavement.

’I decided to stand my ground and fight it’

Louise McCarthy

Athy footballer Daniel O Keeffe developed depression at the age of 16 and has made a number of suicide attempts. Picture: Adrian Melia
Athy footballer Daniel O Keeffe developed depression at the age of 16 and has made a number of suicide attempts. Picture: Adrian Melia

A young Co Kildare sportsman expressing his sympathies to five families suffering the loss of loved ones through suicide within weeks in Newbridge said: “It could easily have been me.’

Senior footballer for Athy, Daniel O’Keeffe, is 26- years-old. He first became depressed at the age of 16.

The five men, in their 30s and 40s, who took their own lives in Newbridge

At the age of 19, Mr O’Keeffe was contemplating suicide. Following a number of attempts, he sought help last year.

He said: “I reached out to a friend, I got help, I decided to stand my ground and fight it.

“I never knew what was wrong with me. I was never good at school, there I put on a brave face, I was the showman. When I was 16, I remember, I started to cry and I did not know what was wrong.”

After completing secondary school, Mr O’Keeffe stayed living in Athy and pursued a career as a DJ.

He said: “I lived for the weekend, I was big into football, so I did that during the week. I was going through the motions. I just was not happy.”

It was around this time that he turned to marijuana.

“It does not make you feel good. It is a massive depressant, it made me feel very down. I have been off it for two years now. When I gave it up, I had to live in my own head. I felt depressed so I would smoke weed, I was living in a bubble, you don’t have to think about what you are feeling.”

During this time he became very anxious and was unable to hold down a full-time job.

Following the latest suicide attempt last year, Mr O’Keeffe took action.

Mr O’Keeffe spent 10 days in hospital, between Tallaght and Lake View Hospital, Naas. He went from there to Pieta House where he received counselling and still continues to receive assistance.

He said: “I tried antidepressants for a while but they did not suit me. I did not find them helpful. I do a lot of meditation. A healthy mind is a healthy body. I am now back playing for Athy GAA.

“There were weeks when I would not turn up for training when I was depressed. I am feeling a lot better, it can be done, it is a hard road, I got a lot of support from my family and friends.”

He recently helped launch the first Darkness into Light walk for his local town of Athy, which will take place at 4.15am on May 7.

The national event is the main fundraiser for Pieta House.

For further information on Pieta House, log onto www.pietahouse.ie or call 01 6010000.

‘He had always said to me: Daddy live life to the full’

Louise McCarthy

Sean O’Sullivan: Son Padraig took his own life.
Sean O’Sullivan: Son Padraig took his own life.

A north Cork man is the founder of a counselling service in a Co Kildare town left devastated by the latest spate of five suicides within weeks.

Sean O’Sullivan, from Buttevant, Co Cork established Hope (d), after his son Padraig, 21, took his own life, in the garage adjoining the family home in Kildare.

Mr O’Sullivan said that he noticed some signs that were not normal in the time prior to Padraig ending his life by suicide.

The youngest of five, Padraig had returned home after spending about six months in Australia. His mother, Gabriel, whom he had been extremely close to, had passed away 10 months before.

Mr O’Sullivan said: “Padraig had been into designer clothes but I noticed that suddenly he did not change his clothes for a few days. When we said it to him, he did change them.

“The day before he died I was passing him in the sitting room, he was watching something on the television. I said I will be home at 3pm, he said, ‘do you have to go’. No-one had ever said that to me before.”

On that evening, Mr O’Sullivan’s mobile rang twice, while he was in the house. The only people in the house at that time were himself and Padraig. Later it was revealed that the calls had been from the landline in the house and were likely made by Padraig.

He recalls waking at 9.45am the following morning. It was 2003, the date he found his son’s body.

“I heard the dogs barking, they were locked in the front room. When I got up I felt a nausea in my stomach. The two big doors of the garage were shut, I had left them open. It was very sad what I saw. He had always said, ‘Daddy live life to the full’.”

Before Padraig killed himself, Mr O’Sullivan noticed he had started smoking.

“He was a very good athlete and had never smoked, he did not want me to see him smoke. His best friend said he passed him on the road before he died and beeped the horn, Padraig had went by, like a zombie, he had been so low.”

Following Padraig’s death, a priest based in Australia contacted Mr O’Sullivan. “Padraig had been walking two miles every day to get counselling from the priest.”

Mr O’Sullivan said that despite the priest’s recommendations, Padraig did not receive counselling when he returned.

“There needs to be a lot more resources for mental health in communities. There is still some stigma surrounding depression and suicide.”

Mr O’Sullivan is appealing for a change in how families bereaved by suicide are dealt with by the inquest system.

“There could be 10 suicides being dealt with in an inquest, all in one day, with everyone listening. I don’t think it needs to be in a public forum, if the family do not want that,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hope (d) offers lowcost counselling to people suffering from depression or at risk of suicide in all areas of Co Kildare. For an appointment phone 087 151 3535.


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