Monday 21 October 2019

The courage and wisdom of a young man who refused to give up on life

Donal Walsh, who has died at 16, gave a lot back in his brief life
Donal Walsh, who has died at 16, gave a lot back in his brief life

LIFE is short. Tragically for some, life is far too short. Donal Walsh only got 16 years on this earth, but the impact he made in this short space of time was phenomenal.

The inspirational teenager passed away peacefully at his home in Blennerville, Co Kerry, on Sunday surrounded by his parents and sister after putting up a mighty battle against cancer, and after starting a nationwide campaign against youth suicide. He won the hearts of the nation for his courage in the process.

Donal was a brave teen warrior, a truly remarkable young man mature beyond his years. He wanted to live. He wanted to play rugby for Munster. He wanted to travel the world and see places like New Zealand, Asia and America. He wanted to see his sister walk up the aisle. He wanted to see his four best friends do good in life.

But this was not to be.

Donal had a death sentence, but he didn't regard himself as dying of cancer. He lived with cancer until the day he died, never letting his illness rule his life. He said: "Every day people say I'm brave, that I'm courageous and I hate that. I'm just doing what I have to do to survive, to live another day."

Donal showed enormous personal courage in the face of his illness, and incredibly he managed to turn it into something positive, using his last few months to speak out against suicide and to spread the message amongst young people that taking one's life was not the answer.

"Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem," he said.

He wrote a very moving article in the Irish Independent pleading for an end to the suicide epidemic among young people.

He had great faith and took the view that God was using him to show people they should appreciate life more.

"If I'm meant to be a symbol for people to appreciate life, then I'll be happy to die."

Only a month ago, five out of six inquests at the coroner's court in Killarney in Donal's native Kerry returned verdicts of suicide. Two of the young men were only 16, one was 21, one 22 and one aged 30.

At the previous two sittings of the coroner's court, seven out of the eight deaths were by suicide.

Some 486 deaths by suicide were registered in Ireland in 2010, 386 male and 100 female. Suicide is a leading cause of death among young people and the rate of youth suicide in this country is the

fifth highest in the EU at 15.7 per 100,000 for 15- to 24 year olds.

For each person who dies by suicide, it has been estimated that at least six other people are affected.

A lot of lip service has been paid by politicians and the health service on the issue of suicide in Ireland. No coherent nationwide programme has been put in place to prevent our young people from taking their own lives in the numbers they do. It is clear a huge investment is needed in youth mental health services.

Too much of the support is being left to organisations such as Headstrong, a not-for-profit organisation established by clinical psychologist Tony Bates, in 2006. Headstrong found services for vulnerable young people were often difficult to access, inappropriate or non-existent.

Donal Walsh had more impact in the past few months on the issue of suicide than any politician. Not only did he give numerous inspirational radio, television and newspaper interviews throughout his illness, urging people considering suicide to seek help, but it emerged yesterday he has left a valuable legacy – a video for the National Office for Suicide Prevention, which will soon be distributed to schools all over Ireland.

It would be a fitting tribute to Donal if the Government were to put serious resources into the area of youth mental health. Donal's death need not be in vain.

The courage of his parents, Finnbar and Elma, and his sister Jemma, must be acknowledged, too. They can be proud of their son and brother. It is clear that his generosity of spirit came from them.

On May 2, Donal gave the two fingers to his terminal cancer. He wrote on Twitter: "They told me to have an early Christmas but I am after making it from October to the summer. #F***YouDoctors #Defyingods #FightLikeF***".

That is the spirit that marked out Donal. May this extraordinary young man rest in peace.

Irish Independent

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