When Garda Sgt. Sarah Hargadon participated in Landmark Education’s Self-Expression and Leadership Programme in Ireland she created ‘Talk 2 Me’ sponsored walks which were aimed at heightening awareness of suicide and its devasting impact on families. ‘In spite of there being more suicides than road deaths in Ireland the public debate on suicide is very low key.’ Her purpose was to ‘do more than just raise funds but create a greater awareness of a subject that is taboo.’
However, Sarah did not stop there. She created a vision which led to her setting up a local branch of “Living Links” in Co. Donegal. This was in response to the need for practical help, information and support for families and persons bereaved by suicide. It aims to get people over the initial worrying months following a suicide by providing support in a one-to-one setting.
Addressing a large delegation of clergy members, politicians, Gardai, community workers and HSE officials, Ms Hargadan, who chairs the new Living Links branch, said: “I have a vision for the future. My vision is that all people are living lives of self-discovery and self-expression in a society where everyone knows they have a place. I am clear that wherever and however I can, I will increase awareness and support, policies and structures that will make a difference in this area. One of those structures that is in place and that is making a difference is Living Links.”
Through the Living Links service, fully-trained individuals known as ‘Suicide Outreach Support Persons’ call to a home or other location at the request of a family. They strive to help with areas of concern that often arise in the early days following a suicide. These include inquests, funerals, entitlements, what to say to the children, how to deal with neighbours or connect you to other support services in your area.
The founder and co-ordinator of Living Links, Mr Michael Egan, said that suicide postvention work, such as the kind being carried out by his organisation, would hopefully lead to suicide prevention for future generations.
“The more we speak about it, the more we get out there in a positive way that it will reflect on what’s happening in society, and that people will be prepared to come forward and speak about their problems, because as we know a problem shared is a problem halved,” he told the Donegal News.
Living Link’s uniqueness, said Mr Egan, lies in the fact that people could share their problems on a one-to-one basis, rather than in a group setting, which can sometimes be very difficult.
“The first year following a suicide is often one of total confusion, and although people are aware of very good support groups that are available in the community, they may not be prepared to call to those groups because they feel they will have to pour out their hearts in public. This is why we feel, at their request, that a member of Living Links will talk to them in their home or another suitable location and give them an opportunity to speak on a one-to-one about what has happened. Living Links will get them over those initial worrying months when they have no one to speak to,” said Mr Egan.
Every individual who meets with a Living Links outreach support person will be given a booklet which advises how best to cope with suicide. Ann McMenamin from Glenfin is one of eight volunteers who will be providing the outreach service.
“I lost my brother to suicide eight years ago and found at that time there was no services available for the family, other than the support of family and friends which we were grateful for. People find it difficult to know what to say to the family but you are better to acknowledge the death rather than avoid talking about it,” said Ann.
She said the inquest into her brother’s death had a traumatising effect on her family, and hopes that by working with Living Links, she can alleviate some of the pain for other families who face similar difficulties.
Also speaking at the meeting was Anne Sheridan, Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Resource Officer, HSE West, and Dr Jimmy Devins TD, Minister for Disability and Mental Health. Minister Devins said the Government had given a “personal guarantee” that in two years time, “not only will we have hopefully arrested the rise in suicide rates but we will have a ten percent reduction.”
The Living Links service is free and can be accessed by calling 087-9286007.