Matt O'Connor is known to most as the Fathers4Justice campaigner who stormed the stage at the Rose of Tralee festival dressed as a priest. Today, however, he reveals how suicide and depression impacted his own life and suggests emergency action is now required to address the suicide crisis in Ireland and the ever increasing number of male suicides in particular.
AS a father of three boys, whose family comes from Kerry, I am obviously deeply concerned about the suicide crisis sweeping Ireland.
In the last fortnight alone it has been reported that the HSE were responding to an "emerging suicide cluster" in Cork City.
The simple fact is that substantially more people die in Ireland from suicide than road traffic accidents.
In 2014, for example, there were 459 deaths by suicide. This compared to 166 road traffic deaths the following year.
Even more worryingly, deaths by suicide appear to be underreported with many coroners recording suicides as ‘death by misadventure’ to avoid further pain for heartbroken families who cannot cope with the stigma and shame they believe is still attached to suicide in Ireland.
I’ve not only seen the misery inflicted by suicide first hand in my family but as a father who went through a traumatic divorce I know how the pain and anguish of depression can leave you in a vicious, downward spiral of despair and hopelessness.
I know that every heartbreaking suicide is a tragedy that has a devastating effect on friends, families and communities.
I was fortunate enough to recover before starting a campaign focused on helping other men and fathers in my position.
Statistics show that on average 11 men die every week from suicide in Ireland and 80% of all suicides are men, and it is in response to those type of statistics that Fathers4Justice has campaigned, since its foundation, for fathers’ rights and men’s health issues including suicide, depression, cancer, violence and family breakdown.
Despite our best endeavours, however, every week we are contacted by families whose loved ones have taken their lives, yet are too ashamed to share their testimonies with others.
There are vast numbers of disadvantaged and disenfranchised men in Ireland who are vulnerable to death by suicide. Some of this is undoubtedly down to the way we are conditioned to behave.
When men lose their identity and sense of worth, they can become depressed and feel out of control. If their marriage or relationship breaks down, this can further exacerbate the sense of crisis.
In older men, isolation in rural communities is now believed to play a significant role in male suicides.
There is no doubt in my mond that the policies of successive governments have disenfranchised a generation of men and we are now witnessing this in an unfolding public health emergency.
As a nation it is incumbent upon all of us to break this wall of silence.
It is scandalous that the government has failed to take any meaningful action to address this crisis and that desperate people are left languishing with the only help coming from a patchwork of support services across the country, run by hard-working, conscientious people dedicated to saving lives on a shoestring budget.
Contrary to what Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the Dáil recently, we don’t need a national dialogue to tell us people are dying.
We need urgent action and a fully funded national ‘lifeline’ of professional services rolled out across the country as part of an emergency plan to tackle this epidemic. The government did the same when there was a crisis surrounding road traffic deaths.
It is duty bound to do the same now.
That means funding. Not next year - when this political football has been kicked into the long grass - but now.
Fathers4Jutice want serious consideration to be given to the appointment of a Minister for Men and Boys to give them a voice in government on men’s issues, meaningful political representation and someone who can coordinate a response to the men’s health crisis.
Irrespective of that we must act now to stem the tide of desperation that will drive even more people to their deaths over the difficult winter months.
Matt O’Connor is a founder of the Fathers4Justice campaign group.
If anything is troubling you, no matter how large or small the issue, why not contact the Samaritans or call the charity's free 24 hour helpline, Tel 116 123.
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