A TRALEE mother who lost her son to suicide two years ago this week says more needs to be done to educate young people about suicide and mental health if we are ever going to properly tackle what it now becoming an epidemic.
Sharon Roche (pictured right) says she was not surprised at the findings of last week's report from the National Office of Suicide Prevention, which showed that Kerry has the second highest rate of death by suicide in the country. She believes that until suicide is no longer a taboo subject, we are fighting a losing battle.
Ms Roche, whose son Sean took his own life on September 15, 2011, also feels strongly that a 24 hour drop-in centre is vital in every town in Kerry, claiming that young people with suicidal intentions will not speak to a stranger at the end of a phone.
"The services provided are all well and good and I totally accept that those providing these services are dong the best they can," Ms Roche told The Kerryman. "But I firmly believe that young people will not pick up a phone in the middle of the night and talk to a stranger and that's why we need drop in centres in every town in Kerry."
More importantly, however, children need to be educated in the area of mental health and suicide, she says, preferably by people who have been through the pain of losing someone.
"Mental health needs to be brought into the spotlight and people need to be made aware that this is not a temporary problem. It's a long term illness," she said. "Just like children are educated about road safety and bullying, they need to be made aware of mental health issues and suicide and the pain it leaves behind.
People like me, who have lost someone to suicide and who can talk of the effects it has on families, should be giving talks in every school in Ireland, primary and secondary. It's all very well having these helplines and great groups and organisations, but they can only do so much. It's all about awareness, but at the moment suicide and mental health are still very much a taboo subjects, which is a huge part of the problem."
Ms Roche says she is at a loss to explain why the suicide rate is so high in Kerry, but strongly disputes the perception that it has become an 'easy way out' for people.
"I hate when I hear that phrase because there is nothing easy about deciding to take your own life. In fact I'm sure it's the hardest decision anyone ever makes," she said. "Sean struggled with mental health issues for years and I know for a fact his actions were not easy. I genuinely don't know why suicide is so common in Kerry, but if we can get into schools early we might have some hope."
Ms Roche was also one of the first people to call for a national suicide awareness campaign - similar to that delivered by the Road Safety Authority - which would include hard-hitting TV and radio ads featuring families bereaved by suicide.