AT least six people have taken their own lives in north Kerry in the past six weeks, just as government cuts forced one of the most vital mental health services for young people in the area to shut down.
Jigsaw Mental Health Project was closed on Friday as vital funding was withdrawn. The closure has been branded a 'disgrace' by the many people fighting for young people's mental health in the face of escalating suicide levels.
North Kerry suicide prevention campaigner Cora O'Brien - who organised the massive Nunday fundraiser in Listowel earlier this year to help the Pieta House suicide crisis centre - said it is ridiculous that the State could allow services in the area to close. Cora lost her son David to suicide in 2007.
"It's absolutely ridiculous that the funding is not being made available. Suicide is the number one killer of our young people today, not the roads. As far as I'm concerned there's no point looking to the government for anything anymore, we have to tackle it ourselves and bring more awareness of mental health to our school children."
On Monday County Councillor Gillian Wharton Slattery said she attended six funerals of suicide victims in the Tralee and north Kerry area in the past six weeks alone. "It's absolutely frightening, it's an epidemic," she said. AT least six people took their own lives in the last six weeks in north Kerry and Tralee just as one of the most vital services for young people's mental health in the county was closed this week due to cutbacks.
The Jigsaw mental health project, which counselled nearly 400 young people in the last year alone, was closed on Friday as funding promised it was withdrawn.
The closure has been branded a 'disgrace' by those working in the area of mental health.
Former manager Máiréad O'Sullivan told The Kerryman she expects the mental health issues among young people to exacerbate as a result. She called the decision not to provide funding to Jigsaw ridiculous and said it should never have been opened if the State weren't provided to keep it going.
The closure comes as suicide reaches epidemic levels in the county. Kerry County Councillor Gillian Wharton Slattery said she attended the funerals of six suicide victims in the last six weeks alone in the north Kerry region.
"We provided support for 386 young people in the Tralee office alone last year and it was making great inroads. It's an early intervention service for a lot of young people who wouldn't be 100 per cent comfortable in attending a GP. They can ill afford or other mental health professionals. "We referred those at crisis point onto the HSE and the whole thing was proving very effective. Mental health spending was supposed to be ringfenced. For me, to see the Jigsaw door closed now is a disgrace."
Local awareness of suicide has been raised dramatically in the county thanks to the efforts of campaigners like Cora O'Brien, who organised the massive Nunday in Listowel for Pieta House.
"It's absolutely ridiculous that the funding is not being made available. Suicide is the number one killer of our young people today, not the roads," Ms O'Brien, who lost her son David to suicide, said.
"As far as I'm concerned there's no point looking to the government for anything anymore, we have to tackle it ourselves and bring more awareness of mental health to our school children."
Tralee mother Sharon Roche, meanwhile, is leading an online campaign fighting for Jigsaw to be kept open. She will be part of a forthcoming protest march in Tralee which Cllr Wharton Slattery is now helping organise.
"It's an epidemic and it is absolutely frightening," Cllr Wharton Slattery said. "I've spoken to numerous young people at funerals recently who say they are so worried about others taking their lives now. We will be marching in Tralee to mark Suicide Awareness Week shortly," she said.