Galway East Life Support, GELS, was formed in February 2013 by a number of people in the area who expressed their concerns over the number of suicides in the Galway area, as well as their desire to do something about this. Amongst these people were Arthur Carr and Gerry Roach.
In the 30 years that Gerry Roche has been a member of the Garda Siochana he has dealt with many suicides and attempted suicides.
‘I saw the devastation of families and the waste of life and it always bothered me that there was so little that I could do in the circumstances,’
‘This was the biggest issue affecting our society and yet there was no combined approach to tackling it, such as there had been in tackling road deaths, or drink driving or even the smoking issue.”
Gerry, now a Garda Chief Superintendent, has become part of a concerted effort to tackle the issue of suicide in the East Galway community says:
Towards the end of 2012 and in early 2013 there seemed to be a higher number of suicides in the Galway area, the problem was getting worse, people were talking but nothing was being done,’
‘People don’t like to talk about suicide, and you don’t want to force it on people but we need to raise awareness of the dangers and more importantly raise awareness of the help that is out there.
Arthur Carr had been fundraising for Aware in 2012 where his group raised €7,000. He was convinced by the response, that people wanted help. He explains that following the fundraising campaign there was a void and he went on to the next step of raising awareness.
‘I went to Gerry Roche from the Gardai and to Lorraine Higgins who had spoken about the issue in the Seanad and at meetings in the county and it grew from there. We knew that Maura Canning from the IFA was concerned about the issue and since East Galway is 90% rural population it was important to get them on-board and then the other major organisation is the GAA. This would help us to be a conduit to all communities in rural areas. We wanted to get a cross section of the community together, to bring together all the different views as to what was going on.’
As other representatives of community groups joined in this ad hoc group, they invited agencies involved in the area of suicide prevention to meet them. Gerry says that they learned that there is a huge amount of help available for people experiencing difficulties, but that people just don’t know about it.
‘It’s only when you listen to people from Pieta House for example that you can see the tangible effects of their work. We know that the footfall through Pieta House has increased dramatically since Donal Walsh went public with his heartfelt appeal to all those who would contemplate ending their own life, to think again. Their clients ranged in age from 6-82 years and eight out of ten of those would be men. That is only one organisation. That shows the extent of the problem and the solution,’ says Gerry
Brian Derrane, president of the local Lions Club, got involved because over past years the Lion Club have organized safeTALKs, a ½ day suicide alertness for everyone and ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) a 2 day skills building workshop in suicide first aid. These courses are designed to make people confident and competent to deal with suicide attempts. He speaks of the importance of talking, sharing a problem, not hiding feelings and believes that you can really get by ‘with a little help from your friends.’ He speaks of the importance of tackling the stigma of mental illness, breaking down the silence around depression and anxiety and talking more about it.
‘We can break the old mindset and be more positive about mental health,’ he says
Michael Flynn, Ex Galway IFA County Chairman speaks about the severe pressure that farmers are under, of ‘the feeling of helplessness following a prolonged bad winter, fodder shortages, issues around single farm payments and pressure from banks,’ but he says that farmers need to know that they are not alone and that there are people who will stand with them and support them as they face those challenges. This view is shared by Maura Canning who is National Chairperson of IFA Farm Family & Social Affairs Committee. The IFA has been working with See Change and Mental Health Ireland for the last few years to encourage farmers to look after their mental health. With Coillte they organised a series of walks across the country during May to highlight the issue and the green ribbon is a recognisable symbol in relations to talking more openly about mental health problems.
Arthur Carr comes back to what he says is the fundamental question:
‘Would you know where to go if someone told you he or she was suicidal on a Friday evening?’
‘Those who are thinking of ending their life need support and those bereaved by suicide also need help. The support is out there and the task we have taken on is to be a conduit to that support, to let people know about the range of organisations that is out there, what they do and where and when they can be contacted. Ballinasloe needs the information about help available made more accessible.’
The committee of GELS put in place The Four Pillars which provide the foundation for all the organisations activities. The Four Pillars are:
GELS works closely with statutory and voluntary organisations such as the HSE, Pieta House and SOS in organising and funding education programmes with regard to suicide awareness. Examples of this activity are the running of Wellness Days by SOS, as well as the safeTALK and ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) courses by the HSE. The group organises and publicises the courses prior to each event and participates in the running of them.
The group is actively involved in participating in the prevention through all of its activities, particularly in our work in highlighting the various services available to people in need of help in relation to suicidal thoughts or inclinations. We act as a conduit for these services by advertising them on our website, in our Useful Numbers section, and our information cards. You can also contact us in other ways by viewing our Contact Us page.
One of the GELS groups most important activities is the raising of awareness in relation to the issues associated with suicide, self-harm and depression and highlighting the services available.
GELS hold Community Events in Ballinasloe and surrounding area. Representatives from Pieta House, the HSE, Gardai, GAA, IFA etc speak on mental health issues, support services and the importance of local intervention.
The group’s support for families and individuals in need of intervention and help is of paramount importance to us. Intervention by persons and organisations qualified to carry out such life-saving work is vital. The group act as a conduit for these people and services from our premises in Cullen’s Yard, Main Street, Ballinasloe and from our phone-line – 085 123 7878
The group is actively involved with the Galway Suicide Liaison Project with The HSE, Pieta House and An Garda Siochana. This is a support for family, friends and colleagues bereaved by suicide. This is a new approach to providing direct liaison and counselling services for persons affected by suicide.
Its important to TALK to someone about your feelings, There IS HELP…SEEK HELP now!