January 16, 2013 by John Buckley
Today saw the launch of a suicide prevention app spearheaded by Adam Harris and supported by GRASP and the Lions Club. The app aims to give a direct link to suicide prevention support services (all that are provided by accredited professionals) and advise to friends and family who may be concerned about someone who is suicidal. You can download the app here (Android) and (Apple).
I was invited to speak on the day. And here’s what I said:
There’s no one size fits all cure to the endemic that is suicide. Psychotherapy, psychiatry, CBT, pharmaceuticals…the list goes on. But there are three things that I feel are essential that we all have, those with or without mental health difficulties, things we can do, draw on or use to save lives.
1.) Empathy, the power to step into someone else’s shoes, to feel for them, to witness, to listen, to hear, just to be there without judgment or desire to fix. Just out of concern, love, human nature
2.) “I’m a repairman, a repairman with a toolbox. If I repair a little of myself, I repair a little of you”, said Bruce Springsteen recently, and what he’s getting at is that the most powerful thing we have in our lives is ourselves and getting out of dark places is something we all have the power to do, we have to find it though at times. Finding and holding onto the positive strength inside ourselves that I believe everyone has
3.) Knowing that there’s something out there for us: knowing there’s somewhere to go without judgment or stigma. And knowing that we’ll find the right fit for us. But making the reach can be a battle in itself. It’s the knowing that mental health is not a personal flaw or defect and that reaching out is a sign of strength.
My name is John Buckley; I’m youth engagement officer with SpunOut, I’m also someone who a few years ago experienced my own fight with suicide and self harm and it’s something I continue to fight. I’m now 26 and like many young Irish men and young people in general, mental health is something that’s constantly on my radar, whether or not I label it as mental health.
I could stand up here today and rhyme off endless statistics around suicide, but we all know that the most important statistic is that young people are dying by suicide, that they often aren’t reaching out and when they do sometimes there isn’t the resourcing there.
For some young people suicide is becoming a real option when in distress. I subscribe to the Robert Frost philosophy “The best way out of something, is to go through it”. We can create a society whereby individuals engage in positive mental health practices, where citizens know what to do if someone is feeling down and where there is no stigma around reaching out.
During my period of intense distress, I often thought of suicide. I didn’t want to feel how I was feeling and I was trying to get out of the darkness (by drinking, socializing in the wrong places, being angry, self harming, locking myself away) these things weren’t helping. I was trying to help myself using the most unhelpful means at my disposal. And some of the people I spoke to didn’t know what to do, what to say or where the help was.
For me what changed my life was knowing that I wasn’t going to be judged as being weak and figuring out that there was help out there both professionally and from people close to me, who were just there to guide me through, not trying to fix or anything just being there. It was a friend who made me realise, the day I ended up in A and E having hours previously decided that I wasn’t going to stay around anymore, that suicide isn’t the way to deal with pain.
Ireland’s young people are an incredibly talented, intelligent and inspirational generation. But at times many of us don’t know how to deal with distress, this is not a flaw or badness. It’s just something we’re missing, but it’s something we can learn. Society needs to acknowledge this by ensuring we create an environment that values help seeking, that encourages and fosters reaching out, but allied to that fact is that a range of high quality multi disciplinary patient focused services are there to meet the needs of the individual.
What I was met with when I reached out was an environment that focused on my needs exploring a range of treatments from talking therapies to medication.
I think the launch today of the GRASP app is an important step in relation to ensuring young people know of the services available to them, but also for friends and family to become familiar with how to react to someone who’s feeling suicidal.
Young peoples social space is online, it’s where we grow, become socialised get our information on life, form relationships and express ourselves. Efforts to ensure young people know where to turn online are key, that’s why SpunOut exists and other NGO’s working in the area are beginning to reflect this too.
The experience of young people today is varied, but one thing that is true is that suicide is touching every single young person in Ireland. In SpunOut our most written about topic, by young people, is mental health and major proportion of site searches and page views are made up of mental health related views or searches. What’s also clear is that social media, an extremely valuable tool for connecting and information sharing, is taking on a huge role in relation to mental health.
The key points for me in relation to youth suicide are:
- We need to encourage empathy and supportive peer behavior. Young people are social and thrive in positive peer groups. We need to make sure peers are supported and encouraged to display empathy around mental health and suicide and not label as attention seeking or abnormal.
- Reaching out strategies that are resourced is key, just like this app. But strategies that are youth centered lead and focused. Responding to real need
- Building resilience early amongst young people is something we often don’t do very well. We all have the capability to be resilient beings, but it needs nurturing form an early age. Young people are naturally resilient and by fostering and growing it we can learn to approach mental health difficulties in a different way.
- Dialogue around positive mental health from an early age is something absent from discourse. And just like promoting good physical health practices needs building while very young. And viewing mental health and help seeking in a positive light by setting concrete examples.
- Building supports and meeting needs of young people in spaces that they are comfortable with
I still remember very much being on brink of suicide, it something that has stayed with me and probably always will. I can still remember the exact feelings and scene. I’m reminded of it every time I hear of another young life that is lost to suicide. “It’s alright not to feel ok”, is a lyric from the Heathers and it’s something young people need to realise. It’s ok to be in financial trouble, it’s ok to feel crap after a break up; it’s ok to feel down and not know why. But most of all it’s more then ok to get help; it’s the right thing to do.
My generation are extremely capable beings, but we are fragile, like everyone else. Let’s create an Ireland where that fragility is respected, it’s not judged and it’s supported. Tackling suicide is not the government’s responsibility alone, it’s all of our responsibilities, but this needs to be firmly backed up with transparent and targeted spending.
I’d like to congratulation Adam Harris and all involved on the amazing work in relation to suicide prevention. It’s this kind of grass roots leadership that is going to save lives.