Thursday 22 February 2018

Don’t tar Console therapists with same brush as Paul Kelly

Mind and meaning...

Interim Console CEO David Hall Photo: Collins Courts
Interim Console CEO David Hall Photo: Collins Courts

Patricia Casey

Dealing with suicide is challenging, and this has been a bad month for those confronted with the reality of death in this manner.

Those who claim to care for these people have shown themselves, potentially, to be seriously deficient in this calling. We have learned recently that greed and generosity have been in competition, and greed has won.

Console is an organisation with which I have had some dealings. I spoke at one of their meetings in Dublin a number of years ago.

Without hesitation, I encouraged those bereaved by suicide to contact their nearest branch and to seek the special support it claimed to provide those unfortunate enough to be in this situation.

Console seemed to understand the unique nature of grief after suicide. The sorrow that attaches to those left behind after self-inflicted death is very different from what is felt when a person dies from natural causes. There is relentless self-examination, looking for explanations and indicators that suicide was being contemplated.

Questions without answers fill the waking hours of the bereaved. Sometimes those left behind are intensely angered at what they see as a “selfish” act. After all, they think to themselves, “they’ve gone and left us to cope with no explanation”. The anger can rage for many years.

Suicide can rip families apart as those left behind project blame onto other family members in a hopeless attempt to quell their own guilt at not being able to do something to prevent the death.  

Console offered one-to-one counselling post-suicide and it also facilitates peer support: in other words, people who had lost loved ones through suicide offering support to others in that sad position.

This is known to be the approach that those bereaved by suicide find most helpful. After all, nobody can fully appreciate the profound depth of grief after suicide except those who themselves have been through similar pain.

If reports are correct, then those who founded the organisation Console have used thousands of euro to fund their own luxuries. This charity is funded by the HSE, but also received donations from the public.

It is likely that a sizeable proportion of these donations came from people who had lost family members to suicide.

The ‘widow’s mite’, given as a gesture of thanks to the organisation that offered support during the dark days after a loss, now seems to have been treated as fodder for the lifestyle of its founder and his family. How contemptuous is this of the vulnerable donors who gave their pennies?

The organisation on the ground largely uses independent counsellors whom it contracts in and pays per session. According to former TD Dan Neville, and champion of suicide prevention, the fee these counsellors receive is €37 per session. They are not employees of Console itself.

The problem is that those earning this paltry sum may be seen as part of the organisation when in fact they were contracted to do what they are trained to do — assisting and supporting those bereaved by suicide.

There is always a danger in the public mind of guilt by association and a belief that everybody connected with the organisation is tainted. This would be utterly misguided and unjust to these therapists.

There is now an interim CEO in place. David Hall, formerly a mortgage debt campaigner and CEO of Life Line Ambulances — a private ambulance company — has taken over and is voluntarily trying to maintain the services that Console provides.

The role of mortgage arrears triggering suicidal thoughts gives him some kudos in respect of Console. He is forthright and straight-talking.

He is the person who sought permission from the court to gain access to a storage unit rented by former Console CEO Paul Kelly in Naas that contained computers and cheque books revealing details and his and his wife’s income.

Console’s website now has information and updates about what is happening for the public to see.

Meanwhile, Mr Hall had the courage to answer tough questions on Joe Duffy’s Liveline last week.

The message through all of this is that Console, the provider of an indispensable service, should not be penalised because of the reported transgressions of its founder. It is a worthwhile and necessary charity and many would lament its demise.

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