Confronting suicide: First step to recovery is the hardest

EVEN in the hardest days, there can often be a ray of light, a sliver of hope or warm humanity that, even if it can’t immediately lift the darkest clouds, points to the grace and love that brings out the very best in all of us.

This week, Helen O’Driscoll, speaking in Charleville after the inquest into the deaths of her twin nine-year-old sons Paddy and Thomas, who were stabbed more than 40 times each by their depressed older brother Jonathan, who later took his own life, epitomised that grace and courage. She used the opportunity afforded by her family’s great tragedy to speak beyond it, to try to reach out to others who might be suffering life-defining and life-threatening depression in silence.

Mrs O’Driscoll reached over what must be all but incomprehensible and barely endurable for herself, her husband, her surviving children, and wider family to try to convince those suffering, as her troubled son Jonathon, 21, suffered, that they need not feel so alone or cornered and that there are a range of services or individuals only too willing to help them in their moment of great need.

As anyone who has endured depression or watched a loved one, a friend or a neighbour, fighting its life-sucking advances will know, accepting that friendly hand, taking that first step to seek help, is the very, very hardest. But it can be the most rewarding, redemptive step anyone suffering from depression, one of the great curses of our time, can take.

This tragedy highlights again a weakness in our legal system, one that should be rectified sooner rather than later.

Because Jonathan killed himself, a criminal investigation into his death did not arise. Because he was the only suspect for the deaths of his two young brothers, their awful deaths will not be investigated either. The only role gardaí had was presenting facts to the inquest, a research function rather than an investigative one.

And it gets worse. Neither the State’s justice nor health agencies substantively investigate murder-suicides and they are not even recorded by official agencies. This hardly seems the kind of response the terrible events warrant and must add to the hurt felt by the familes and friends of murder- suicide or suicide victims. Contributory factors to the tragedy will not be recorded so initiatives designed to prevent a recurrence are at best a kind of well-intentioned guesswork and possibly pointless. In a country where suicide is so tragically common and where murder-suicides are regular occurences this seems a betrayal. This hands-off approach may contribute to making official repsonses less than they should be and make an already very difficult situation even more so.

We all, at some stage in our lives, know someone in the grip of depression and, even if that person rejects a helping hand the first time it is offered, we should have the courage and determination to persist even if that means asking someone else, a friend, a charity or a State agency to intervene. This is how we can make the heartfelt plea made by Mrs O’Driscoll meaningful and help remember her three children who died so tragically — and show that depression is treatable.

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