Too many families are left asking: why has death knocked at our door?
Published 24/06/2015 | 02:30
In my first speech as Taoiseach, I spoke about the old wisdom of how a wound heals from the edges in. Judging by our suicide figures, there is not just a wounding but a devastating sadness in the lives of those who find themselves at the edge of society, the edge of coping, and, in too many cases, the edge of life itself.
This affects so many of our fellow citizens, particularly those who are young and middle-aged. But we are none of us untouchable, none of us immune. So suicide prevention is everyone's concern.
Today, the Government is launching the 'Connecting for Life' national suicide prevention strategy. For the Government, this strategy is more than a necessity. It is a responsibility, a duty.
About 10 people a week take their lives here in Ireland. So many people for whom, at a particular moment, their greatest desire in life is to leave it. The consequences that follow: the empty chair at the table or boots by the door and a tortured and numb family and friends left behind asking questions that can never be answered: Why? Why has death knocked on our door? Could I have stopped this? What if I had stayed home that day?
'Connecting for Life' is about embracing a national strategy, a national plan, involving the whole of Government and the whole of society, to work together on preventing death by suicide. This is a public policy that must be owned and administered in large part by the people.
The strategy is bold and ambitious, with a target to reduce suicide and self-harm by 10pc over the next five years. We are equally bold in our determination to put this into action. Departments and agencies have made commitments and they are going to deliver. Despite financial constraints, mental health was and has remained a priority. In our focus on tackling suicide and self-harm, we are becoming leaders in advancing policy development on an international level for suicide prevention.
We're following the best practice of other countries but, in our case, we're working not just across the whole population but, crucially, with particularly vulnerable people, such as our young people, our men in middle age, and our people who are at a time in their life that can make them vulnerable. Times like when we lose a job, experience stress in the workplace or classroom, or a loved one passes. 'Connecting for Life' sets out to strengthen the services available at these critical junctures.
Crucially, this strategy sets out to strengthen the ties that bind in society. We cannot live our lives in isolation. At some point in all of our lives, we will depend on the kindness of family, friends or strangers. Or we will be the providers of that kindness.
As a nation, we must not alone become mindful, but also minding of ourselves and those around us.
This can happen in the most simple ways. It is the little things. In the office, it might be asking a colleague out for a coffee. On your street, dropping around with a few scones and saying 'stick on the kettle'. Or simply asking the question: is everything okay?
Thanks to people like Conor Cusack, Marian Keyes and Bressie, more of us know it's okay not to feel okay. Thousands walk from Darkness into Light for Pieta House, showing that if people have the chance, more will come out and show they care.
Thousands more contact online sources of help, showing that if people know it's okay to need help, more of them will reach out.
The increased contact with groups such as Bodywhys proves the old stigma attached to mental health is beginning to recede.
In Templemore, the Gardaí have made Safetalk and Assist programmes a core part of foundation training. This is all welcome news.
We have come a long way in reducing the stigma, from a time when these things simply weren't talked about. This could not have happened without the tireless work and commitment of campaigners like Dan Neville, who fought for suicide to be decriminalised over 22 years ago, and whose work continues today.
I've spoken often about our young people and how they live in a very different world to the one I grew up in - a world where cyberbullying had not even been conceived. It is now an online world where a 'bit of fun', experienced by its victims as 'virtual' torture, often anonymous, always wounds and sometimes kills real people in real life.
At school, internet safety and awareness is key. The focus is on changing behaviour, and increasing knowledge, coping skills and self-confidence. But as parents, it's up to all of us to convince our young people they are already of immeasurable value to us because they simply exist. Their sheer presence will always be enough for us. With this strategy, we're continuing to build their confidence and resilience, their sense of self.
We, each of us, have just one life. We must 'mind' it and celebrate it. With this national strategy to prevent suicide, we can. The formula for the future is here but it will take every one of us to make this strategy work - to connect for life.