Remembering Tom by helping others
Just six months ago, Tom O'Flaherty took his own life. Friends and family have since established a new suicide prevention trust in his name. Fintan Lambe reports.
TOM O'FLAHERTY was just 25 when he died by suicide on July 1 last.
His passing had a devastating effect on his family, friends, and the entire community around his home in Gorey.
Within weeks, Talk to Tom - The Tom O'Flaherty Memorial Trust - was set up to provide education, awareness, a 24-hour helpline, and counselling. ' The start of it was at the funeral home, listening to people,' recalled Ray Cullen, Chairman of the Trust. ' The same thing was tripping off people's tongues - "is something going to be done?" - and the reality is, unless people do it themselves, nothing is going to be done.
'Relying on the services provided by the State is a thing of the past, with the way the economy is now,' he added. 'A couple of like-minded people got together, and that's where it started.'
Talk to Tom began on August 2, with an 18-month plan of fundraising and developing services. 'We were overwhelmed by the support and the momentum the whole thing gathered,' said Ray. 'We spoke to the State Solicitor Kevin O'Doherty with a view to putting services in place for the county, and he advised us what to do, and he helped set up everything for us.
'Realistically we were looking at 18 months before we would see anything in operation, but due to the support we got, the momentum that it gathered, and the skillset of the people involved, it just snowballed,' he continued. ' The community and the businesses in the town really got behind us.'
On September 23, they held the Nearly Naked Mile around Gorey which saw around 160 scantily clad men and women take to the streets. The event was a huge financial success, and also helped raise awareness of the charity. More importantly, it helped tackle the stigma often associated with suicide.
The financial boost spurred the plans on, and by November, a charity shop opened at Pugin Court on St. Michael's Road in Gorey.
'Eamon Doran, who set up "It's good to talk" in Wexford, was a huge help to us,' said Ray. Ann Prendergast then came on board as co-ordinator, and soon afterwards, trained psychotherapists were appointed to a panel.
' The demand was so huge, that we had people presenting themselves looking for counselling and psychotherapy in September,' said Ray. 'All our psychotherapists had to meet very strict criteria, and they went through lengthy processes with Ann.' All involved are fully qualified and are affiliated with accredited bodies. The panel of four will be expanded following interviews in January.
'We started straight away because of the need,' explained Ray. 'What shocks me is the demand from younger people, and what's really frightening is it's children as young as ten who have suicidal thoughts.'
' The biggest problem is the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Service in Wexford is non-existent, and has been that way since June,' he added. ' They have had a couple of locums drifting in and out but there's no-one there permanently. We found parents were coming to us, and we are lucky to have two psychotherapists on the panel who cater for adults, teens and younger children.'
He explained that people can contact the psychotherapists themselves, and see them in their own premises. ' The Talk to Tom Trust needn't necessarily know who is going for the services,' said Ray. ' The only thing that appears on the invoice to us is a reference number. If people can afford to make a contribution towards the cost of the service, that's encouraged, but the whole idea is that people have access to psychotherapy regardless of income. If people need financial assistance, the amount of money shouldn't be a barrier.'
The Talk to Tom shop has proven to be a great success, selling new and second hand goods. ' The support from a customer point of view and from a donations point of view has been overwhelming,' he commented. ' The manager and staff are there on a completely voluntary basis, so every cent that comes in apart from the cost of the lease and electricity, is completely ringfenced for the group and family support programme.'
A room upstairs from the shop is available for the psychotherapists and for family support. A drop in centre will also be opening shortly elsewhere in Gorey.
Talk to Tom has also teamed up with the 3T's organisation to offer a 24 hour 1life helpline. The number is 1800 247 100. The service received 33,000 calls in 2010.
Financial assistance is also available to families who have lost a loved one to suicide should they be struggling to cope with funeral costs.
Education is a major goal of the trust, and already, 30 people have been trained in Safe-Talk, a suicide alertness programme that prepares participants to identify people with thoughts of suicide and to connect them with first aid resources.
The training was carried out with the help of the Suicide Prevention Office in Waterford. 'We gave priority to local clubs that are working with young people in town,' said Ray. 'More will be trained in January. It's a fantastic programme that trains people to help them identify people with thoughts of suicide. It gives them ways to be able to send people in the right direction for help.'
Schools across the county will also benefit from the services of Talk to Tom. 'We teamed up with the National Suicide Research Foundation and Dr. Ella Aransman in Cork, for the Mind Yourself Schools Programme,' explained Ray. 'It's a coping skills programme delivered over two sessions to 15 to 18 year olds in
schools and clubs and they get a localised resource pack afterwards. We'll bring it to Wexford in January.'
Fifteen facilitators are being trained to bring the programme to schools and clubs across Wexford, as all of the services offered by Talk to Tom are open to people from anywhere in the county.
Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Trainin,g or ASIST, is also being offered to a group of 30 people, with two others trained already. ' This trains people to become Suicide First Aiders,' said Ray. ' They are trained to put a plan in place for people who have suicidal thoughts and direct them to the Psychotherapy services, and keep them safe.'
Anyone interested in undertaking any of this training, especially if they are in local organisations or businesses, is welcome to get in touch.'
Nine people have already been trained, with the help of the Community Based Drugs Initiative, as facilitators to deliver Drugs Awareness training to the community. 'We are trying to structure it in such a way that it will be delivered to family and friends affected by suicide, and to parents of teenagers,' said Ray.
A family support group has also been set up. This is a peer group facilitated by a Psychotherapist, and has so far proven a success. It next meets on January 8.
Transition Year students at Gorey Community School have also gotten involved with fundraising, and by helping promote good mental health through their Project Smilier campaign.
'It's unbelievable what happened in such a short space of time,' said Ray. 'If we can prevent one other family from going through what we went through, then it's a success.'
He pointed out that there were 525 reported suicides in 2011. He added that Dr. Ella Aransman did some research in hospitals and found that 12,500 people attempted or survived suicide in 2011. '525 people in a year is a colossal amount of people but the figure of people who have attempted suicide is horrific,' he said. 'As many as 22,500 people a year have suicidal thoughts. Our aim is to bring down the number of suicides and attempted suicides, and to get people the help before they come to that. It's difficult for us to say whether or not we have prevented the loss of life yet, but based on what other people are telling us, we have.' 'We want to say a huge thank you to everyone for their support, because without them, the services are not sustainable.' The 24 hour helpline is 1800 247 100. Contact Talk to Tom for information on services on 053 9480533 or 087 0519437. Visit www.talktotom.ie, search for ' Tom O'Flaherty Memorial Trust' on Facebook, or call in to the shop at 2 Pugin Court, St. Michael's Road, Gorey.
To donate directly, lodge funds to The Tom O'Flaherty Memorial Trust Credit Union account, from any bank or financial institution. Sort code 99-10-94. Account number: 10428692