WE SAID we would do better. Time and time again, we have said we will do better, writes
On March 17, 14-year-old Elisha Gault went missing. For eight long days her photo circulated in the Irish media and populated the country’s Facebook and Twitter feeds. Her body was eventually recovered from the River Suir on Sunday, March 25.
Her mother Gráinne described Elisha as her “beautiful, funny, intelligent baby”.
At her funeral Mass on Thursday March 29, the congregation heard how “Elisha’s outward appearance and behaviour were masked by an air of hopelessness within”.
Mental health and suicide were touched upon in the course of a national conversation.
Facebook friends, being “artificial”, was mentioned too, and young people were encouraged to turn off their iPhones “every now and again”.
And then this week, her mother revealed that Elisha had told her family, early last year, that she had been the victim of sexual abuse in 2012.
The family engaged with authorities and a file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). In January 2018, the family received a letter from An Garda Síochána informing them that the matter wasn’t going to be pursued any further.
“It’s one thing to have somebody to build up to have that confidence and trust to come forward and express what had happened but then to find that the powers that be have decided that they’re not going to pursue it.
“She (Elisha) had a range of emotions. It just feels like you’re out there fighting on your own. For all the love in the world if love could save my child, I could have saved everybody in Ireland,” Gráinne told the Pat Kenny Show.
And there’s more.
Gráinne revealed that on May 31, 2017, Elisha made a serious attempt to end her life. She was immediately referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
Elisha was determined as unsuitable for the CAMHS services, and Gráinne said the family were given a printout of other services she could avail of in Ireland.
The family were also linked in with a local youth group through Tusla, the child and family agency, but the group was not in a position to address her psychological issues, Gráinne said.
Her mother’s interview on TV3 was done for one reason, and one reason only, so that her daughter’s life “meant something”.
“Because of the kind-natured girl she was, and given all that she was facing in life, she always wanted to reach out and help others. I’m going to take on what she would have wanted for other people, and that’s to make it better,” she said.
But this shouldn’t just be “on” Gráinne, it should be on all of us.
It should be on our justice system first of all. Parents are not criminal lawyers, they do not know how to deal with what Elisha went through. Nor are they trained mental health professionals, they are parents, they need places to go to and services they can rely on.
As was evidenced by a high-profile rape case, the common law justice system needs to overhaul how it processes crimes of this nature, crimes where we have vulnerable witnesses, marred in trauma.
Work is being done in this area already by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties alongside Maria McDonald BL of the Victims’ Rights Alliance.
Our politicians have a role to play too. In April 2016, there was a moment of outrage over the low number of TDs that had turned up to a Dáil debate about mental health. The debate was happening against the backdrop of
diverting part of the 2016 budget earmarked for mental health to other areas.
Approximately 33 TDs out of 158, were listed to speak at the debate that lasted just over three hours.
And what about us?
Firstly, when it comes to sexual assault, all too often, our national conversation has re-triggered survivors of these crimes. There was George Hook’s comment about the culpability of rape victims in their assaults.
People who spoke out to lessen the damage to silent victims were accused of “witch hunting”. Then there were the “sympathetic” musings for convicted paedophile Tom Humphries. And there was the male voice on our airwaves, questioning why it took Harvey Weinstein’s victims so long to speak out.
Is it too much to ask that we hold off firing myth-based missives through cyberspace until we have adequately informed ourselves about the complexities of rape, trauma and restorative justice?
We need to do better. We all need to do better if we are to bring about meaningful change in areas such as sexual assault and mental health.
Sadly last year though, we emerged as having the fourth-highest teen suicide rate in high-income countries, according to a Unicef report.
Our young people need us and we too, need them. They are, after all, our future carers, doctors, teachers, academics, scientists, artists and politicians. We cannot continue to fail each other.
So, something tangible we can do?
In exactly 21 days times, Pieta House will host its annual fundraiser, Darkness into Light. There are about 180 locations around Ireland where you can join in by walking or running into the dawn of May 12. When it started in 2009, 400 people showed up in Phoenix Park; last year 180,000 of us took part nationwide.
Anything else? A GP recently told me that positive mental health is the ability to share our stories. As a nation renowned for our storytelling, let’s extend that to honest conversations about how we are really feeling, to our closest confidants, if no one else.