The country’s foremost expert on suicide has warned that the family, friends, schoolmates, and wider Donegal community will be seriously impacted upon by the death of Erin Gallagher’s sister by suicide.
The people of Ballybofey were in shock yesterday after 15-year-old Shannon Gallagher died on Wednesday.
About five weeks ago her 13-year-old sister, Erin, took her own life.
Dr Ella Arensman, director of the National Suicide Research Foundation, said that “we don’t in any way want to add to the panic”.
“The family are just coming to terms with what has happened. We must respect their pain and shock,” she said.
“It’s very premature to be commenting on what has happened here. The family will not be helped by huge media coverage. The impact on the school, her friends, and the wider community will be very complex.
“We must establish a system of care for these people that meets their needs. We don’t in any way want to add to the panic,” she said.
Dr Arensman said after 27 years working in this sector, “there have definitely been improvements in the area of suicide with positive interventions taking place but we still can’t guarantee, no matter what you put in place, that suicide won’t occur”.
Shannon was found dead at Stranamuck, near Castlefinn at around midnight on Wednesday.
In October, her sister Erin took her life after various postings were made on the Ask.fm website.
Shannon’s death is the latest in a chilling line of teenage suicides in recent months. Erin’s death came after Ciara Pugsley, 15, from Leitrim, who, like Erin, took her own life in September after being the victim of cyberbullying.
President of the Irish Association of Suicidology, Deputy Dan Neville said “there are some very vulnerable people out there who see all the attention that a person gets after a suicide, who may see the attention that a person is receiving as far preferable to the very bad way they might be feeling”.
“We have to be very careful not to glamorise suicide or not to encourage anybody down this route.
“All we can do is to keep encouraging people to talk, talk to their families or talk to somebody that they trust,” he said.
The National Anti-bullying Coalition also extended their sympathies to the Gallagher family.
“There are no words that will help at this time. The most frustrating and painful thing about all of these tragedies is that we have the solutions.
“In the memory of these children the coalition will continue to spread our message of solutions, care for all, and create fit for practice structures in our schools and communities.
“There will be no half measures,” a spokesman said.
Time to talk
Talking to teenagers: Advice taken from the Irish Examiner’s Let’s Talk Bullying booklet:
* Parents need to have time for their children. They need to really listen and not instantly judge and dismiss what young people are saying.
* Openly judging teenagers when they talk about what is bothering them will just cause them to close up and internalise what is going on.
* Try not to fall into the vicious circle of ‘nagging’ to get things done. Are you fighting over things that are not really that important rather than sitting down and problem solving with them?
* Console 24-hour helpline: 1800 201 890
* Samaritans 24-hour helpline: 1850 60 90 90
* Pieta House Crisis Centre for prevention of self-harm and suicide: Free of charge counselling, drop-in branches Dublin and Limerick. Helpline: 01 601 0000.
* Aware: Provides support to those affected by depression and related disorders.
Helpline: 1850 303 302 (10am-10pm Mon-Wed; 10am-1am Thurs).
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (9am-5pm).
Cork Support Group: Contact Kate: 087 299 3142.
* Irish Friends of the Suicide Bereaved:
Helpline: 021 4316722
24-hour helpline: 1800 666 666.
TeenText Service: Text ‘Talk’ to 50101.
Copycat suicide risk
Children, adolescents, and young adults are at great risk of contagion or copycat suicides, research shows.
Such behaviour can be influenced by a number of factors, but particularly relevant are TV, radio, newspapers and the internet.
“Clustering is more common amongst adolescents and young adults. However, defining any particular set of events as a cluster is difficult, firstly because the available data may not be reliable, and secondly because of the relatively low numbers involved.
It may be more appropriate therefore to refer to ‘emerging’ clusters, a HSE report, Responding to Cluster Suicides, said.
The HSE has warned any response to the suicides should avoid “glorification” and “minimise sensationalism”.
“To do otherwise might increase the likelihood that someone who identifies with the deceased or who is having suicidal thoughts will also attempt suicide, in order to be similarly glorified or to receive similar, positive attention.
“It is important also to avoid vilifying those who have died by suicide in an effort to decrease the degree to which others might identify with them.
“In addition to being needlessly cruel to bereaved families, such an approach may only serve to make those who do identify with those who have died more isolated and friendless,” the report’s authors wrote.
The HSE said anybody at risk, such as friends or relatives should be offered support.
— Claire O’Sullivan
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