Wednesday 17 January 2018

Sometimes we all need a listening ear

We can all end up staring at the screen looking for inspiration. Photo: Getty Images.
We can all end up staring at the screen looking for inspiration. Photo: Getty Images.

Breifne Earley

You know that scene from that film, the writer sitting in front of a screen preparing to produce that perfect piece of work; they start to write only to stop and delete everything before they end up staring at the screen hoping for inspiration.

I've been living that film for the past few days.

The problem isn't writer's block though, it's the opposite. I've been trying to settle on which area of the Pedal the Planet project to feature.

The subject for this week's column came from an unlikely source, a conversation with an old friend who lost a family member to suicide a number of years ago.

It's a conversation I've had a lot over the past few months since I first openly spoke about my own experience with depression and suicide. At this stage I can see it coming a mile off. It starts with a discussion about the cycle before, 15 minutes later, a whispered 'Can I ask you something?' Of course their eyes have already asked the question. The exact words used can vary but the reason behind them is always the same. Why?

Why did their son, daughter, brother, sister, father, mother take their own life. Was it something that they could have stopped, events they might have changed or sometimes the most harrowing of all questions. Was it their fault?

It's important for me to say at this point that I'm not trained to deal with this situation, and my first input to these conversations is always to recommend they speak to a professional or one of the agencies who work in this area. That being said, most people just want the opportunity to talk to somebody about their experience.

This time the question was slightly different from the norm. He asked me if the increase in people talking about suicide was actually putting the idea into people's minds.

The evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, would suggest the opposite is true.

Through the noughties, the Nuremburg Alliance Against Depression in Germany showed that creating a public discourse about depression, mental health and suicide resulted in a 20pc decrease in suicide rates.

These conversations can cover a wide range of emotions including pain, upset, guilt, anger, usually tears and generally features a hug but always ends in the same way, with their eyes. That visual gratitude will always be reason enough to continue to listen to as many people as possible who need a listening ear.

I'm certain the public discourse about mental health and suicide prevention is affording people the opportunity to discuss their own worries and concerns with friends and family without the fear of stigma or judgment. In my experience, communication can solve any problem, but the conversation must be started first. For me it starts with the eyes.

If you are affected by any of the the issues raised in this column please talk to one of the fantastic organisations set up to offer support. You can talk in confidence to Pieta House on 01 6010000/

Breifne will take part in the World Cycle Race in March, in which he hopes to break the current record for cycling around the planet

Irish Independent

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