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'The suicide of someone you know is a thing we all have in common now'

A new film tackles a difficult subject in a unique way, actor Dermot Murphy tells Áine O'Connor

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Dermot Murphy

Dermot Murphy

Dermot Murphy

'My first real experience of suicide was a pal from school. You're so lucky because you don't think about it and then it happens to someone you know and you have to try to wrap your head around it. It's not something you can ever really make sense of, but the crazy thing is that it's the thing that we all have in common now."

Wexford-born actor Dermot Murphy is talking about the personal elements that he drew on for his role in the film I Made This For You. A deeply personal exercise for the entire team, from its creator Cristian Solimeno to the ensemble cast, the aim was to communicate, connect and help.

Because everyone knows dark days, and what Murphy says is true: we all know, or know of, someone who has taken their own life.

That said, suicide rates in Ireland have shown an overall downward trend in recent years. The last report by the National Office for Suicide Prevention recorded 352 suicides in 2018, compared to 519 in 2001.

The gender breakdown is consistent, however: in Ireland, as in most of the world, 80pc of suicides are male. The decrease in numbers can be attributed to many factors, not least of which are awareness, education and destigmatising depression.

I Made This For You is about a man, Al, who, following a recent attempted suicide, refuses to see or speak to anyone. So his friends and family make him a DVD in which they talk about, and to, him, telling stories and sharing feelings. They also talk about how they felt after his suicide attempt.

Murphy plays one of the friends. The film is low-budget - virtually no budget - and he shot his part on his phone. He says it felt a bit like a school project so it's almost a surprise that people will get to see it.

Much of what his character says is improvised. "What really appealed to me was that you weren't limited by script, you were really encouraged to just be honest. You don't always get the opportunity to do that, or not to that extent."

It can't be an easy thing to do? "No!" But Murphy knows the crew well and says: "I felt safe enough to be able to share, and I believed in it; I felt it was really cool to be making something with some of your mates that you felt was important, or that resonated with you on some level."

He adds: "Obviously Al is a fictional character but he is based on loads of real people… I feel like we all know somebody like that; we might even have been in that position, or some version of it, ourselves at one point."

The man behind the film, actor, writer, director and photographer Solimeno - Murphy's long-term friend - says he had long wanted to make a film that would deal in some way with mental health.

The Londoner has lost friends to suicide and has had cause to worry about others.

"There were several people that I knew that I was concerned about - sometimes I'm concerned about myself - and I really wanted to make something that could potentially deter somebody from ending their life at a critical moment," says Solimeno.

"I was aware that that was probably a naive thing to even try, but, if you were to try, what would it look like?"

He thought about the difficult "and maybe slightly dangerous" times that had happened in his own life and asked what had been the things that made a difference.

"What I need in those moments is to be touched, emotionally, and for me personally that means honesty and authenticity. Reminding someone that they are cared for and it's not just people being nice to you, it's meaning something to people."

This was what led to the inclusion of the friends' response to the suicide attempt - it is not a perspective always included in work on suicide.

Murphy agrees: "It's so easy to say to someone who is struggling, 'Hey, everything is going to be all right', but the reality of life, and how complicated it is, and how complicated we are as people, is going to be dark sometimes. And when somebody makes the decision [to die by suicide] you feel anger and confusion and despair that somebody is so sad and that you didn't even realise."

So the film, in the words of Solimeno, aims to show the importance of "reminding someone that they are cared for, that they really mean something to the people who love them".

I Made This For You is available to download for free on YouTube for a month from World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10 See film reviews, page 7

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