Charity reports 25% rise in calls to suicide helpline at start of Covid third wave

Charity reports 25% rise in calls to suicide helpline at start of Covid third wave

Roni Coomey and Sinéad Crowley, secretary, Clonakilty Darkness Into Light, at Astna Square in the West Cork town ahead of this year's event. Picture: Andy Gibson.

The number of calls and texts to Pieta House’s helpline related to suicide, self-harm, and bereavement rose by 25% at the beginning of the third wave of Covid-19, when compared to the same period 12 months earlier.

The suicide awareness charity also believes the pandemic burden will have “far-reaching implications” throughout 2021.

Speaking ahead of its annual fundraising event Darkness into Light tomorrow, the charity said it delivered more than 52,000 hours of therapy and answered over 70,000 calls and texts for help through its 24/7 crisis helpline in 2020.

Emma Dolan, clinical director with Pieta House, said the end of December and the beginning of January was a particularly busy time for the charity.

“Some of it was the usual stress and constraints of Christmas, and, anecdotally, there were concerns around the financial impact of Covid," she said.

"Definitely just after Christmas there was a real awareness that the numbers in relation to Covid were going up, there was going to be a more stringent lockdown so we saw an increase in calls around lockdown and restrictions," Ms Dolan said. 

"People were worried for family, friends, and themselves."

We would be hopeful now as the year goes on and restrictions lift that some of those anxieties come down for people. 

Ms Dolan said a large proportion of people contacting Pieta House spoke about anxiety, loneliness, hopelessness, and isolation.

There were particular concerns about younger people, Ms Dolan added, with 50% of people working with Pieta’s service being under 25, and 30% being under 18.

“It’s a time in their lives when their relationships and their social supports are critical to them and they’ve come through a year now where they haven’t been able to do a lot of the things they would normally do,” she added.

Ms Dolan said communication is the key to helping friends or family that you think might be struggling.

“You really want to keep the conversation going. You want to make sure people don’t get to that space where they are feeling isolated, they are feeling lonely. 

"If you’re concerned about somebody at all, it’s just doing that checking in —  'how are you, how are you doing?' — asking the questions and not being scared to ask the question,” she said.

Generally, it’s good to keep an eye out for people who already have a diagnosed mental health condition, or chronic health condition. If they were struggling to access the supports they would usually access. 

The charity's Darkness into Light fundraiser will take place tomorrow. 

With the ongoing Covid restrictions meaning events won't take place at designated Darkness Into Light venues, the charity is asking participants to don their yellow t-shirts and take part in the event at a time and in a location that suits them.

Pieta House says Darkness into Light a “core element” of its fundraising efforts. 

The event raised €4m last year, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, and the charity said it is “very much dependent on its success to fund so many of our vital services this year”.

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