Mental health campaigner Conor Cusack has called for the establishment of a 24/7 “emotional wellbeing centre” in response to the carnage caused by the suicide crisis sweeping Cork.
In a moving appeal, Mr Cusack told of how he helped cut a friend’s son down from a tree recently — one of 16 people to die by suspected suicide in the region in the last two weeks.
A taskforce is to meet early next month to discuss a multi-agency response to the crisis.
Among those to have died by suicide in the city in recent weeks include an 18-year-old scout from Greenmount, and two of his friends, a 15-year-old girl from Ballyphehane and a 17-year-old girl, a fifth-year student, from Rochestown.
An 18-year-old boy from Mayfield, a 20-year-old man from Togher, and a 44-year-old woman from Ballyphehane are also suspected to have died by suicide in recent days.
The rate of suicides in the city and county is almost twice the national average.
Mr Cusack called for the establishment of a 24/7 “emotional wellbeing centre” in the city to support those at risk of suicide, and said society needs to remove the stigma associated with mental health.
He said the tragedy is that very few people in distress come forward seeking support and help.
“Because of this omnipresent stigma that still surrounds this very common aspect of the human experience, only two people in ten in distress come forward to get support,” he told 96FM.
“People think if you have difficulty with some aspect of your wellbeing that somehow it’s a weakness. If that’s the case, then there are a lot of weak people, a lot of weak inter-county sports people, a lot of weak politicians, priests, and people running multinational companies.”
While he described the mental health sector as one of the most neglected in the Irish health service, he said it is not just a government or health service issue.
“This is a society issue,” he said. “The reality is this is a responsibility we all have. We all share responsibility to make a change.
“There have been task-forces involved in this for as long as I can remember. It’s an action force we need.”
Cork South-Central Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire has called for national intervention to find out what has caused the tragedies. He told the Dáil he personally knew two of those who have lost their lives.
“I speak on behalf of a community which is hurting, which has been shocked and traumatised by the loss of so many people in recent weeks,” he said.
A taskforce is to meet next month to discuss a multi-agency response to the crisis.
The HSE’s suicide prevention officer for Cork, Martin Ryan, will attend the meeting, which is to be chaired by Lord Mayor Des Cahill.
Other speakers will include Garda Chief Supt Mick Finn, staff from Pieta House, the Breaking the Cycle suicide support group from Cobh, and experts from the National Suicide Research Foundation at UCC.
The meeting will also be attended by representatives of Foróige, the UCC and CIT students’ unions, and some sporting organisations.
Details of a new teenage mental wellbeing service, Jigsaw, which is due to open in Cork in January, will also be unveiled.
Independent councillor Mick Finn, who is organising the meeting, says the public is asking what is being done.
“We cannot continue to wait for central government to act,” he said. “The human cost has been far too high in Cork for such a waiting game.”
Mr Finn said he believes more preventative work needs to be done through the schools network.
“I have written to both the education and health ministers, asking them to urgently provide resources to roll out these services in Cork, and indeed nationwide,” he said.
The meeting will be held at Cork City Hall on Monday, December 5.
Helpline: HSE South 24/7 freephone suicide helpline: 1800 742745
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