THE Shine a Light Suicide and Mental Health Awareness group began 12 years ago, its chairperson, Letitia Hill, says, because of the high levels of suicide on Cork’s northside.
Shine a Light, which is awaiting a decision on its application to become a registered charity, is a community project of local people and representatives of statutory and voluntary services. It raises awareness around mental health and suicide, to lower the incidence of suicide.
“When we founded Shine a Light, we were fundraising on the northside and I was shocked that it seemed that every person I met had lost someone to suicide,” Ms Hill says.
The establishment of the group promoted the notion of speaking openly and directly about suicide and related issues.
Myles Gaffney, who works as a postman and moonlights as a songwriter and folk singer, says the group’s aim is to get people talking about mental health and suicide, and preventing suicide.
“We’re great in this country at showing genuine empathy for those who die by suicide, and for those they leave behind, and we’re always good to say, ‘Sure, God love them’, but we never seem to think about preventing the next death, and that is something that we really need to start doing,” Mr Gaffney says.
Shine a Light provides counselling at low cost through the SHEP/Coiscéim Counselling service, and runs SafeTalk and ASIST suicide-awareness training in conjunction with the HSE.
ASIST stands for Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, and Joe D’alton, Shine a Light director, says the course trains attendees in the different stages of intervention. He describes it as “First Aid for mental health”.
While Covid-19 has put a temporary halt to Shine a Light’s courses, online versions are available through the HSE.
“If just one person in every household was trained in ASIST, just think of all the lives that might be saved,”Ms Hill says.
Mr Gaffney suggests that getting the course into schools, where it is perhaps most needed, would be key, but Mr D’alton notes that while the age limit for courses like ASIST is 16 in most Anglophone countries, in Ireland it is 18.
Mick Nugent, who is a Shine a Light director and a Sinn Féin Cork City councillor, says Sinn Féin raised the matter in the Dáil, but it seems there is a concern in some schools that talking about suicide prevention might plant the seed of suicide in young people’s minds, which is not the case at all, Mr Nugent says.
“We have found that it is by talking about suicide and mental-health issues, in a mature and sensible way, that young people feel empowered to come forward and ask for help. Not talking about things has never worked.”
Official HSE figures for 2020 say there were 340 suicides in Ireland in 2020, a figure Mr D’alton says is provisional and excludes late registered deaths.
He says that there is still a huge taboo in this country about recording deaths as suicide, and, most likely, a desire not to cause pain to bereaved families leads to some suicides being recorded as ‘accidental’ or ‘misadventure’.
“The lads in Cork City Missing Persons Search and Recovery will tell you they are seeing more and more deaths by suicide,” Mr D’alton says.
Ms Hill says that since Shine a Light’s establishment, it has been continually growing and expanding, while looking at ways of building easily accessible and affordable supports for the communities it serves.
“It is the core belief of Shine a Light that community groups play a vital role in suicide-prevention work, and that it’s simply not possible to progress any national-level agenda without strong community engagement and active support,” Ms Hill says.
Other Shine a Light services include bereavement support groups and directing people to supports offered by other organisations, as well as the promotion of positive mental health in the community. Shine a Light also provides workshops on coping skills and resilience to communities, youth groups, and schools.
The group also produces a play, called Bring Me Back Alive, which deals with the aftermath of suicide and tackles the social issues people face in their daily lives.
“The play really educates about suicide, and it sends a very positive message of hope, telling people that someone is always there, so please just reach out and ask for help,” Mr D’alton says.
“It is such a powerful play, and emotions tend to be really strong at performances, and counsellors are always there on the night. We have done 11 performances in different schools across Cork City and county.”
Shine A Light’s Make Some Noise Cork event occurs this Friday evening, in collaboration with Cork City Partnership. The event is part-sponsored under the Healthy Ireland campaign, a Government of Ireland initiative, and by Cork City Council.
“We’re asking people to please join us on the night for information on services available in our area and nationally, and to enjoy entertainment by Cork’s finest talent,” says Mr D’alton.
“And, as we always say, talking is a sign of strength rather than weakness, so please don’t ever be afraid to reach out, because help is there.”
Shine a Light Suicide and Mental Health Awareness can be contacted by private message on its Facebook page.
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