Life at all costs: Growing up with Ireland’s abortion policies

It was November 27th, 2014.

By now, the story is well known- or at least, the basic facts are. A woman, in the early stages of pregnancy, was admitted to hospital with headaches and nausea. Two days later, she suffered a fall and was later found to be unresponsive. On December 3rd, she was declared clinically brain dead. She had a loving father and was already a mother to two children, aged 6 and 4, with her fiance, also the father of her unborn child. She was just 26.

What follows is bleak, if not outright harrowing. She was brain dead, but the foetus still had a heartbeat. For a period of weeks after her death, her body was maintained by mechanical ventilation and she was fed by a nasogastric tube. She was given high doses of various medications for pneumonia, fungal infections, high blood pressure, fluid build up and urinary tract problems. Physiotherapy was required. When her children came to see her, efforts were made to improve her devastated appearance: make up was applied, but the whites of her eyes were so swollen than they could not close. One of the children became distressed on seeing her. Her body swelled. An open wound on her head became infected. She no longer resembled the photograph of herself on the bedside table.

The woman’s father was told that this course of treatment would continue, ostensibly for the duration of the pregnancy. The idea was to attain foetal viability- to bring into the world the unborn foetus lying inside its brain dead mother while her corpse degenerated around it at a rapid pace. The doctors felt trapped by a decision made in an Irish referendum in 1983, relating to the right to life of the unborn child. Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution states as follows:

“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

Her father asked that life support be discontinued, as did her partner. They felt that the support measures were unlikely to safely bring a child into the world. They felt the treatment was experimental and not based on any ethical principle. Medical staff said they felt constrained because the foetus still had a heartbeat.

How is it that Ireland’s doctors find themselves using a dead woman as an incubator, in the vague, unqualified, unscientific hope that a child may be born eventually of the experiment? How is it that this could be, not just legal, but possibly Constitutionally protected?

To find the answer to the question, we have to go back in time and consider the status of women and the unborn in Ireland- as well as Irish society itself.

Read more at Medium.

Letter to Alan Caulfield, Editor, Metro Herald

September 5th, 2014

Dear Mr Caulfield,

I am writing with regard to an article published in this morning’s Metro Herald regarding the sad details of the emerging events in Charleville, Co Cork over the past 24 hours.

A line in the article reads “A well-informed source said: ‘The place is like a butcher’s parlour, or an abbatoir. Those poor little boys suffered a shocking death.’”

I believe this sentence to be incredibly insensitive. Such graphic detail was not required or requested and in my opinion, does not serve the public interest. I firmly believe that the article was very well placed to draw attention to rising mental health and suicide problems among young people and particularly, among the Traveller community. Instead, the article has sensationalised the tragic end to three lives in a small, close knit community.

This particular sentence was particularly grim and I question the validity of printing it as a result. I draw your attention to Principle 5 of the Press Ombudsman Code of Practice, relating to Privacy. Section 5.3 states that “Sympathy and discretion must be shown at all times in seeking information in situations of personal grief or shock. In publishing such information, the feelings of grieving families should be taken into account. This should not be interpreted as restricting the right to report judicial proceedings.”

I suggest this situation is unlikely to become a matter for the courts, nullifying the exemption in the clause in question. The sentence printed in the article compares the violent deaths of two young boys to a butcher’s practice, presenting an image of animals for slaughter. Frankly, I believe that drawing such an analogy lessens the worth of their lives and would have a horrific impact on family members who may read the article in question.

I also note Article 9 of the Press Ombudsman Code, specifically relating to Children. Section 9.1 reads that “Newspapers and magazines shall take particular care in seeking and presenting information or comment about a child under the age of 16.” By printing the sentence in question, your newspaper has presented gory, brutal and unnecessarily visceral information about the deaths of two children under the age of 10. I remind you that there are surviving relatives, many of them very young, who may in time also read this piece.

I’m not sure of your level of awareness about mental health and suicide in the Traveller community. Currently, the Traveller suicide rate is six times that of the national settled population, and for men specifically, it is seven times higher. Incidences of mental health problems are extremely widespread and members of the community express anxiety and discomfort when talking about mental health concerns. Your article could have drawn attention to suicide support services, mental health awareness for young people, victim support organisations and Traveller support structures, but it did not. Indeed, instead of analysing the blood on the walls, the journalist could have asked why this happened, why 1 in 11 Travellers die by suicide- and how we can work to lower that figure.

This article made victims of those children all over again, rehashing their cruel end in technicolour. The public interest was not served here and I believe an apology is due- not just for this family, but for the sake of the many families who have suffered the aftermath of such a situation and who do not need such brutal reminders.

Note: Mr Caulfield did not respond to this letter. Instead, he published it in heavily edited form on the Herald website, removing all references to the Press Ombudsman Code. My complaint was never acknowledged and the Press Ombudsman refused to consider the issue unless a member of the (traumatised) family in question would sign off on on the process. 

My view from behind the bar at Electric Picnic is truly sobering

This article originally appeared in the print edition of the Irish Independent on September 2nd 2014.

More than 40,000 people descended on Stradbally, Co Laois this past weekend for the Electric Picnic, tents in hand and ready for a three day drinking party. They were willing to forgive the dank mist and grey rolling skies on Friday morning, utterly unbothered by squelching mud paths stretching from campsites to the arena.

I arrived early with a friend, gazing at the sky with a sense of foreboding and preparing myself for the dread of The Portaloo. After the business of tent pitching, we headed to the arena, but while others went to party, we went to work, serving at a bar. Like many staffing the bars we were volunteers, raising money for causes and joining in the festival fun when we had a chance.

Electric Picnic as a sober person is, well, sobering- and the view from the bar offered a sharp slap of perspective.

The pictures in the newspapers don’t tell you the full story, of people coming a cropper on the roots of trees in the dark and children exposed to dangerous, riotous drunkenness, the result of a drink culture that makes people reckless and stupid. The photos look beautiful, but the portaloos covered in excrement and vomit, the men lined up at walls urinating in front of children and the thousands and thousands of empty cups littering the grass all tell a different story. There is a darkness to Electric Picnic.

Throughout the weekend, I mildly refused suggestions of discounts, free pints and kisses (among other things). I got to know some revellers quite well, because they returned to the bar like clockwork every twenty minutes. I watched them stumble across the grass, tripping over their own wellies and spilling the pint they had just paid €6 for. Easy come, easy go.

I didn’t have to make any active effort to sell copious amounts of alcohol- in fact, it was unusual for a person to order merely one pint. The idea of not having a drink in hand at all times seemed inconceivable to most people. A 125ml plastic flute of Prosecco sold for the extortionate price of €7.50 and festival attendees lapped it up. Fifty euro notes rolled in and thousands of gallons of alcohol poured out. Plenty of bar-goers complained at the €6 cost of a pint- but not one person in thousands turned it down. Not one.

We were overworked, slipping in the mix of mud and spilled drinks inside the bar, calculating quick maths in our head as we served one person every five to ten seconds. 90% of people who came to the bar were a total joy, full of cheer and good craic, chatty and polite- but a minority were simply horrible, bullying staff into breaking regulations about bottles, lids and serving requirements.  Several people refused to leave the bar unless they got their own way and one or two offered me ‘extra money’ to break the rules, throwing temper tantrums that belong in primary schools.

It would have been incredibly easy to buy drink for the multitudes of under-agers at the festival, simply because the crowds were so huge and the bars so busy. I worried, in my sobriety, for the thousands of girls walking the grass in the pitch dark wearing very little in the freezing cold. I worried at how fragile they seemed, how easy it would be for just one person to prey on them. I worried for the 18 year old ‘men’, lost and wandering the campsite, completely unaware of the streams and dark ditches on the sides of the paths, stumbling into danger.

I settled in on Sunday evening to see St Vincent, where I laughed with a friend about an extremely drunk man who was dancing to his own party, oblivious of the world around him and almost unable to stand. That didn’t stop him from slapping women’s arses as they walked past- and fearful, they simply moved on without saying anything. He teetered close to a picnic blanket that served as a base for three small children- one still in nappies- who played chasing in the dark of the tent. Mom and Dad were close by, but I winced every time I saw bigger feet come close to trampling them in the grass. Meanwhile, festival-goers holding their children’s hands became irate when bouncers denied them access to the bar.

My bar manager was extremely surprised on Sunday when I turned down her offer of free pints at the end of my shift. She couldn’t understand why, at 6pm on a Sunday, a person wouldn’t want to unwind with a drink.

Remembering a genocide the world is determined to ignore

This article originally appeared on TheJournal.ie.

Thousands of Roma met their fate in the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chambers, died in medical experiments or starved to death. Others were displaced or sterilised.

IN THE MIDDLE of the night between August 2nd and 3rd in 1944, almost 3,000 Roma were led from their camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau to the gas chambers, where they were ruthlessly murdered as dawn rose. Last Saturday morning, I found myself standing beside the remains of that gas chamber, surrounded by 1,000 Roma young people determined to commemorate their losses in a genocide the world seems determined to forget.

The Roma are vilified and maligned across Europe. In the 70 years since the Holocaust, their pain and suffering has been forgotten and diluted, wiped from the pages of history books while the same myths that were used to put them in camps in the first place persist into the 21st century. Widely accepted “facts” about Roma criminality and anti-social behaviour are today central to any conversation about the Roma community, despite a broad lack of understanding for the realities involved.

Pushed out 

The Roma were detested ever before the Nazis tortured, murdered and burned them en masse. In the 1920s and 30s, as the world economy bottomed out, thousands of people in Central Europe lost their jobs and retreated from cities to their home villages, where they took over jobs the Roma had been doing. The Roma became poorer and disadvantaged, forced to move from place to place to find meagre employment. In towns and villages, local craftspeople protested the competition and Roma and Sinti were fined for attempting to work.

Regional authorities across Europe began to issue special identification cards for Roma, listing them in ‘gypsy registers’ and subjected them to constant police checks as they sought shelter and work.

The poverty and disadvantage faced by the Roma was at crisis point. Gypsy conferences were organised, where ‘solutions’ to the Roma problem were suggested, including mass deportations to islands and labour camps. As the Nazis came to power, they categorised Roma as ‘born criminals’ and in the interest of crime prevention, arrested Roma they thought might someday commit a crime.

Displacement and forced sterilisation 

The first gypsy camps were made not by the Nazi party, but by local government in Germany. Roma were forced from their flats, houses and parks and moved into camps and segregated. During the 1936 Olympic Games, the Roma and Sinti were forcibly relocated to a camp on the outskirts and were not allowed to leave unless they had a job. Their property was confiscated and sold; they were never compensated. Between 1933 and 1945, more than 400,000 people were forcibly sterilised by the Nazis, including thousands of Roma and Sinti.

In the late 1930s, the first deportations of Roma to concentration camps began. While the yellow star worn by the Jewish victims of the Holocaust is best known, the Roma had their own symbols, brown or black triangles, symbolising their ethnicity and their inherent ‘anti-social’ status.

In 1942, Himmler ordered that all ‘Gypsies’ still living in the German Reich must be deported to Auschwitz. More than 20,000 Roma were forced into 32 wooden huts in the Gypsy Camp at Auschwitz. They died slowly, agonisingly, of disease, starvation, hypothermia and exertion. Dr Josef Mengele maintained a lab in Auschwitz where he experimented on Roma children.

In May of 1944, the Roma in the camp learned that they were to be killed. They armed themselves with stones and sticks, barricaded themselves into their huts and fought for their lives when the Nazis came for them. The Nazis retreated, but by July, most men and strong boys had been removed to work in other camps and over 70% of the initial 20,000 had died. Those that remained, 2,879 women, children and elderly people, were massacred in the middle of the night, with nobody to defend them and nobody to hear them. It lasted mere minutes; 3000 lives snuffed out in an unremarkable moment, their bodies burned into dust on the ground.

Their story has been roundly ignored

Hundreds of thousands of Roma died as the Nazis swept across Europe. Those that did survive returned to their towns and villages to find they had nothing left, their property stolen, their families separated and lost.

We all know the story of the Holocaust. The Roma call it the ‘Porajmos’ or ‘Devouring’ and for 70 years, their story has been roundly ignored, their commemorations quiet, their memorials few. The world is willing to casually forget their loss, yet anecdotes about their ‘criminality’ and ‘anti-social behaviours’ continue to dominate conversation, despite the damage caused by those exact anecdotes in the past.

Across Europe, governments threaten and evict the Roma, refusing them access to vital services and denying them aid. In Ireland, many do not qualify for social welfare, even child benefit, despite a recent referendum on ‘children’s rights’. They face extreme unemployment and poverty. They have poor education outcomes, language and literacy barriers. They are segregated and discriminated against at every turn, but people are willing to turn a blind eye to all of that because it’s not happening to them.

I walked seven miles around the camp last Saturday with 1000 Roma people – fulfilling that adage about walking in someone else’s shoes. Auschwitz-Birkenau is a foul, disgusting place, stained with unspeakable evil and terrifying sadness. Without hesitation, the Roma welcomed me to walk with them through the dusty paths. They shared their incredible stories, their major worries, their brutal fears for the future.

They never allowed me to feel like I didn’t belong.

Asylum Seeker Accommodation (The Irish Times, July 2014)

This letter appeared in The Irish Times on July 23rd, 2014.

Sir, – Tim Dennehy (Letters, July 21st) notes that The Irish Times has not published any expressions of opinion supporting the direct provision system for asylum seekers. He is correct, perhaps because to support direct provision is to defend the indefensible. Supporting it justifies an unjustifiable situation for those men, women and children forced to live in reprehensible conditions, day after day, year after year in a brutal limbo.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights hearings last week made it clear that the Government supports and defends direct provision. Countless letters and articles have apparently not yet demonstrated to it the vast and overwhelming depravity of the system.

So we’ll keep writing. – Yours, etc,

AISLING TWOMEY,

Anne Street North,

Dublin 7

Dear World, Love Ireland

This piece originally appeared at The Irish Times.

Nobody mentioned the loneliness of leaving and of being left behind’

Dear World, – Three and a half years ago I wrote for The Irish Times as a college student facing a destitute future in a bust economy. I was frightened of what would become of me, scared of the lack of opportunity that faced me beyond the safe walls of university. When it was published I became a target of both love and hate. Some respondents called me entitled and self-righteous; others encouraged me to leave Ireland before Ireland left me in the dust.

Well, I’m still here. I completed a master’s, worked part time for two and a half years and sought an internship I adored. I worked in communications for a politician and took part in a six-month youth journalism project, covering the Irish presidency of the Council of the European Union. In late 2013 I got a job with an NGO in Dublin and finally left Cork, many months after most of my friends.

By the time I left, Cork had become quiet. Toronto, London, Edinburgh, Sydney and China all called, and my friends answered in staggered groups. I noticed it in fewer social events and birthdays; fewer nights out. It felt like all the young people in Cork were there one day and gone the next.

In all of the discussions about emigration, and the brilliant, streaming light of gainful employment elsewhere, nobody mentioned the loneliness of leaving and the loneliness of being left behind.

The rest of the world is hosting hundreds of thousands of Irish people in their mid 20s. The reality of that has yet to properly bite us. Our young people have left to explore the wider world alone. In it they will set up their own lives, create new careers, marry and have children. They will settle, and it won’t be on home soil.

I miss the people I grew up with. I miss my friends. With the dawn of social networking it’s easier to stay in touch, but every few weeks there’s a Facebook update from someone else about to depart these shores. They leave in exultation, delighted to be working and living a life they imagined, reliant on themselves and determined to succeed.

What I’ve learned is that no matter where we fly to, and no matter what we do when we get there, like generations before us we’re more resilient than we look. We’ve been unafraid in our endeavours, leaping off cliffs into the unknown with unbridled hope. We’ve embraced fear. Not a person alive can say we’ve lacked courage.

Rest of the World, please mind my friends. Please keep them safe and happy. I know they had mighty dreams and aspirations. Please help them to achieve those lofty goals. And when the time comes, in two years or in 20, lead them home. – Love, Ireland

YMIP Report Launch and Graduation

Yesterday, November 20th, participants from Youth Media and the Irish Presidency got together to finish out the project and see the report launched. Three YMIP-ers spoke at the event. Below is the speech I gave regarding young people and the need to invest more in them when they clearly have so much to give.

The full report will doubtless be available from European Movement Ireland. Major thanks also go to John Buckley at SpunOut.ie.

————

“Near the end of the street where I grew up in Cork, there is a pedestrian footbridge. The footbridge and the street it leads onto are poorly lit and poorly maintained. It features too much graffiti and illegal waste- and it plays host to gangs of teenagers and gangs of adults drinking. My mother has always favoured avoiding the bridge. It’s the sort of place that lends itself easily to accidents and easier still to menace. I have always known that.

A few weeks ago, I went back to Cork for a weekend to vote and to visit. I had an argument with myself over whether to take the short trip across the bridge to go home, or to take the long way around. It was past 10pm, I was carrying two bags, my phone was dead and I was tired. The shortcut won, and I walked onto the bridge.

What happened next will stay with me for the rest of my life; I will never, ever forget it.

It was pitch dark and he didn’t see me, but I saw him. He walked toward me, stopped and turned. I saw him pull himself up onto the railings of the bridge and I think my heart stopped. Realisation dawned pretty fast. He took a big breath and leaned forward.

I have no idea what I roared at him, but he wasn’t expecting me and I interrupted him. He reached out and grabbed the suspension wire, which was the only thing that stopped his fall onto a busy, national primary road, fifty feet below.

He was sixteen, drunk and miles from home, attempting to take his own life not two minutes from the house where I grew up.

After I got him down, once he finished crying and stopped shaking, when we were finished talking and when I knew he was going right to the front door of his mother’s house with a friend, I went home and found a charger and rang the local Garda station, which is a two minute walk, at most, from that bridge.

The Garda in the public office told me that it was really ‘a Monday morning type of issue’ because the pubs and clubs were about to start major business hours. He said I had already dealt with it, so there was no point in him taking it further. He told me to write a letter about it on Monday.

Suicide just isn’t a Monday morning issue. I wrote the letter on Monday morning- but I also wrote a piece for TheJournal and for the Evening Echo in Cork. Days later, I got a call from the Superintendent who wanted me to come in and talk to him.

When I went in, he said he felt I was unfair in my article. Last year, I might have apologised and agreed with him- but the six months of YMIP taught me to ask questions and I learned not to stop just because someone disagreed with me. Having someone disagree with you doesn’t make you wrong.

Almost 500 people died by suicide in 2010, most were young males and Cork is a county with a high rate. We have too many stories about young men taking their own lives without adding another to it. It is so easy to presume that this boy would have stopped at the last second, that he wouldn’t have jumped- but it is that exact presumption that costs us more lives each year.

Suicide doesn’t wait for convenient times or convenient people. It is not a Monday morning issue; it’s a now issue.

The Superintendent and I agreed to disagree, but he must have heard me because last week, I got a call from another Garda station in Cork. They talked to the boy I met on the bridge. He’s gay, bullied, depressed and an alcoholic. His father died last year and he just can’t cope. I want him to see the good parts of life. I want him to know that there’ll always be someone fighting in his corner. Young people shouldn’t be dealt hands like that, but they are.

YMIP gave 25 young people a chance to grab the bull by the horns and be in charge.  Members of this group still use the Facebook group we set up as a support back at the start of this project. It’s a small thing, but it counts. That boy didn’t have anything to reach out for; he didn’t have this chance.

YMIP was a fantastic exception to an otherwise seemingly unbreakable rule. It was created by an organisation that elected to invest in young people when so few others do.

I think we owe that boy a minute of thought. Nobody was fighting in his corner when I met him but without YMIP, I don’t think I’d have written what I did or stuck to my guns on it afterwards.

I wanted to say this because I realise that YMIP was fighting in our corner and we were lucky. I wanted to acknowledge that, and to say thanks.”

Child Protection (The Irish Times, November 2013)

Sir, – Jacky Jones (Second Opinion, Health + Family, November 5th) asserts that the Roma families, so heavily featured in the news recently, received better care than their Irish counterparts and that the possible racism involved in these cases in fact served the Roma families well.

Ms Jones uses infamous past Irish cases of child abuse, child neglect and severe physical traumas to demonstrate her point.

Ms Jones should never have attempted to justify her point by using these cases; it could suggest that these Roma children were in some way neglected, abused or manipulated when no such evidence exists. The comparison serves only to denigrate these Roma families and their community.

Ms Jones states that in the cases of the past, Irish parents constantly lied to the gardaí. These Roma families did not. They said, truthfully, that these children were their own. They gave narrative and paper evidence and were disbelieved. They submitted to DNA testing and were proved truthful. There is simply no comparison.

If Irish parents are less suspicious than Roma families and gardaí neglect to interfere on that basis, this is a failing of the State to both.

Racism serves nobody well and Ms Jones in her article alarmingly expressed trust and faith in a system of institutional racism that serves only to damage and degrade. – Yours, etc,

AISLING TWOMEY,
Information Co-ordinator,
Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre,
North Great Charles Street,
Dublin 1

How far can racism go?

This article originally appeared at OneEurope.

Has anyone ever told you that you look like your Mom; that you look like your Dad? At some point in life, doubtlessly someone has mentioned your grandmother’s chin or your uncle’s eyes- and how you resemble them. Maybe you’re one of the people who look nothing like their parents. Maybe you have children who look nothing like you.

Maybe you should avoid Ireland

This week, my country hit the international headlines for all the wrong reasons. Members of the Irish police force, An Garda Síochána, arrived at the door of a house in Tallaght in the South of Dublin, where they took a seven year old girl from her Roma family. She has blonde hair and blue eyes. They did not.

The reports coming from Greece of Maria a young child living in a Roma camp with people discovered not to be her parents and termed the “Blonde Angel” in the media perhaps fuelled the frenzy that followed in Ireland and across the world. Taken away for DNA testing, the girl from Tallaght was placed in the care of the Health Service Executive (HSE) for two nights.

There was national outcry – for more than one reason. A child was taken from her family just because she looked different? Racist! On the other side, commentators questioned the criminal connections in the Roma community. Kidnappers!

Click here to read more.

‘I saw him pull himself up onto the railing of the footbridge’

Note: This article originally appeared on TheJournal.ie. It later appeared in an edited format in the Evening Echo.

Mental health issues still carry stigma and shame in our society – why? The real shame belongs to those who pretend these problems don’t exist, writes Aisling Twomey.

NEAR THE END of the street where I grew up, there is a pedestrian footbridge. The footbridge and the street it leads on to are poorly lit and poorly maintained with small amounts of local traffic but little else. It plays host to gangs of teenagers drinking, gangs of adults drinking and features violent graffiti and illegally dumped waste. For as long as I can remember, my mother has favoured avoiding this bridge but it’s a shortcut to the city centre so the entire family uses it.

My mother has always told me to avoid the bridge at night time. That’s her limit – don’t cross the bridge at night. It’s the sort of place that lends itself easily to accidents and easier still to menace. I have always been aware of its troubling potential.

On Friday night, I returned from work in Dublin for the weekend. I got off the bus and stopped off to vote in City Hall. I was laden down with bags and I was exhausted. I had an internal argument with myself over whether to take the gloriously short trip over the footbridge, or whether to take the long walk around. My phone battery was dead and I just wanted to be at home. I took the shortcut and walked up onto the bridge.

I saw him pull himself up onto the railing

The initial part must have taken only seconds but I remember the details so clearly. I remember the orange glow of the single streetlamp reflected softly by the wet ground. I remember the swoosh of the cars driving underneath me. I came from the darkness and he didn’t see me – but I did see him. I remember taking in his white shirt and his tattered Converse.

I saw him pull himself up onto the railing of the footbridge. Realisation dawned suddenly and I felt my heart try to leave my body. I watched him take a big breath and lean forward over the road below. I shouted. I’m not sure what I said but he wasn’t expecting me and I interrupted him. He reached out and grabbed the suspension wire – the only thing that stopped his fall to a terrible end.

He was a teenager, drunk and miles from his home, attempting to take his own life not two minutes from the house I grew up in.

After I got him down, when he was finished crying, when he stopped shaking, when we were finished talking and when I knew he was going right to the front door of his mother’s house accompanied by a friend, I got home and found a phone charger and rang the local Garda station, which is a two minute walk, at most, from that footbridge.

‘A Monday morning type of issue’

The sergeant in the public office told me that really, this was “a Monday morning type of issue,” because the pubs and clubs were just about to start major business hours. He explained that I had “already dealt with it,” so there was no point in him taking it further; he wouldn’t send anyone in that direction. He told me that, really, the best thing I could do would be to write a letter on Monday, when officers weren’t busy.

I don’t understand how a member of the Gardaí neglected to give 100 per cent priority to a child who felt, even for a moment, that he didn’t want to live. How foolish of me, to call in a suicide attempt on a Friday night just as the clubs were opening.

495 people took their own lives in Ireland in 2010; 82 per cent of these were male and the highest rate was among males aged 20-24. Further, Cork is a county that sees a higher rate of suicide. Ireland is a small country. Everyone is affected by the sheer tragedy of suicide and we have too many stories about young men taking their own lives without adding another one to it.

It is so easy to presume that this boy would have stopped at the last minute, that he wouldn’t have jumped – but it is that exact presumption that costs us more lives each year.

Overwhelming stigma

The stigma of mental health problems and suicide is overwhelming. Too often, we make reference to the “lunatics” and “crazies”, without realising that significant mental health struggles by those who live with us and love us and never say a word about it, because it defies expectation of normality, because it seems wrong, because it’s not physical so it’s hard to see and understand. Those assumptions are wrong and struggling with mental health shouldn’t be about shame and hiding – but it is.

Whether that child – because he was a child – would have jumped off that bridge or not, I don’t know. What I do know is that life for him is a struggle, and whether he’s a Saudi prince or a scared kid from Cork, it doesn’t matter. Depression, isolation and suicidal feelings don’t wait for convenient times or convenient people.
Are we really willing to bet on the life of a human being?

Presuming that someone “won’t do it” isn’t the right answer and it carries with it a huge and potentially fatal risk. In fact, it answers entirely the wrong question. Instead of asking if he’ll really kill himself, we should be asking how he arrived at this point. I wondered afterwards what brought him to this moment and how he felt his options had become so limited. I wonder now whether he knows that I’ll think of him always and I’ll hope that he makes it to see the good parts of life.

Unfortunately, we remain willing to bargain the life of a human being on a presumption that they can’t possibly feel bad enough to end it all – even when the hundreds of funerals each year should tell us otherwise. When a child feels that he can’t cope in this world anymore, even for a moment, there are hefty, uncomfortable questions to be answered.

The real shame and blame is ours, because we pretend that these questions don’t exist at all.

Thursday 10 October marks World Mental Health Day.
Helplines:
Samaritans 1850 60 90 900 or email jo@samaritans.org
Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634
Console 1800 201 890
Aware 1890 303 302
Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie

Read the entire article here.