This weekend saw the completion of another 'Darkness into Light' procession, an extraordinary national event, organised by Pieta House, the very worthy outreach facility for victims of self-harm and families affected by suicide.
The people's procession, which took place through Friday night and into Saturday morning, is a powerful affair, rightly described as a 'symbolic and beautiful event' and marks the recent upsurge in suicides and the hope of trying to stop it, or reduce it.
The nighttime march involves ordinary people in 14 locations nationally, walking 5km, and finishing their walks as the dawn is rising. Far from being solemn or overly sad, it is a broad family-based affair, with people pushing buggies, walking dogs and even jogging the route -- an affirmative march against the gloom, so to speak.
Suicide has been a major factor in Irish life in recent times and, unfortunately, has only increased with the onset of our sudden and devastating economic crisis. Once a taboo subject in our society, suicide and self-harm are now being addressed and explored much more openly: hence the nocturnal procession.
There is no point in sweeping it all under the carpet. This week I participated in a radio discussion about it, with a representative from Pieta House, Joan Freeman. The discussion was based around the revelation that the two age groups now most affected by suicide are people in their mid 40s to 50s and, revealingly, those aged between 15 to 18.
We both felt that the first was not surprising, given that this is the age group most caught in the debt trap, with large mortgages, reduced income, or none at all, and a feeling of no way out, unlike people in their 20s with less attachments and the prospect of emigrating.
The incidence of suicide in the younger category was, we felt, to do with the turmoil that always occurs for teenagers during this period. But this has been exacerbated by the recession, with many 17-year-olds seeing no real prospect of jobs or anything come out of third-level education (which has also become prohibitively expensive).
These youngsters also have to suffer the downturn affecting their parents, and the decline in family fortunes and income. It must be said that this was not just our opinions, but the conclusions based on surveys and research done by Pieta House. For example, Pieta House discovered that while the recession has caused a lot of marriage break-ups, affecting this younger age group, the lack of income also meant that couples were staying together out of convenience, despite being estranged, and this was creating further strain on their teenage children.
The crucial difference about this recession compared to others is the phenomenon of debt, and the feeling that there is no way out, and it is this that is driving people to take their own lives. In the Eighties, or early Nineties, there was emigration or the dole, but now there is also the huge albatross of debt.
The other point about the current recession is that, of course, we came from a long period of unprecedented prosperity into a sudden -- very sudden -- severe downturn and that would have had a major psychological impact, especially for younger people.
It is a shock to the system. Freefall was the title of a TV documentary about the property crash (and sudden downturn) but it could also describe the psychological impact on people. It is noteworthy, and welcome, that there have been few apparent suicides among high-profile property developers or financiers. Their crisis is presumably at so big a level that it galvanises them to keep fighting. And for this we should be grateful. There is a fortitude in our society, including among those wealth creators who have then lost it all. However, the reality is that, much further down the scale, there are many desperate and quiet acts of self-destruction which have had a devastating affect on family and loved ones.
The suicide issue has been off the front pages somewhat of late, and yet this week there were people on Joe Duffy's Liveline talking about it and about the separate issue of coroners often returning verdicts of 'death by misadventure' etc when in fact the families would prefer the truth to be told. The reality is that many late-night car accidents deep in rural Ireland, for example, are also often half-hearted suicides, but the statistics do not reflect this. Against all this, the 'Darkness into Light' is a great idea which deserves coverage.
It is through such broad-based community events, and such spirit, that terrible phenomena like suicide can be challenged and indeed it is the way that so many of our current problems might best be confronted, if not solved.