“Nobody seems to be getting it. There is more talking about it than action,” says Joan Freeman, CEO and founder of Pieta House, which was established in 2006 and offers free therapeutic support to people who are suicidal or self-harming.
Last year, Pieta House saw more than 4,000 people. “We are standing at the cliff edge with the person,” says Joan. “The majority of people do not want to die — they just want to stop the way they are feeling.” Before the economic crash, the most frequent users of the service — which employs 170 people in nine centres — were in the 18-to-25-year age bracket. Now, it’s mortgage holders aged between 30 and 45 who are most likely to look for help.
For men, there are two tipping points: work and relationships. “Anything to do with work, whether it’s redundancy, retirement or a business has failed. Also, the ending of a significant relationship — through death or a break-up — can cause a man to be greatly distressed and lead on to suicide,” Joan says.
For women, age is a factor. The highest rate of female suicide is between the ages of 45 and 60. “They have come to a series of endings. They feel they have lost their attractiveness, lost their fertility. Maybe, they feel their relationships are not great, their children have left the nest, even the menopause can have such a terrible effect,” says Joan.
Beyond gender, old age offers no insulation against mental-health issues. “Someone in their 80s is also facing a series of endings. Maybe their partner has died, maybe their siblings have died, maybe they are facing illnesses, or maybe they are extremely lonely.”
Pieta House’s model is solution-focused. “Our job is not to go into the past. Instead, the focus is on the present and future,” says Joan.
The approach is working. Six months after treatment, suicide ideation is decreasing, depression is decreasing, self-esteem is rising. Joan wants a Pieta House within 100km of every Irish person. With three more centres on the horizon — Waterford, Donegal and the Midlands are being considered — it’s a goal she is very likely to achieve.
* Pieta House is one of nine charities to benefit from this year’s Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle, on Saturday, July 5. See: www.pieta.ie