Inevitably, anxiety levels amongst the general public ratcheted up a notch as soon as Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed that the country would be moving to a Covid Level 5 lockdown situation. In fact, Mr Martin even referenced the toll that it would take on people’s mental health as the winter evenings draw in.
While there’s no escaping it’s a big issue, calls are being made for care to be taking in the manner in which the topic is discussed online and in other forums. A regular comment seen on the daily updates surrounding Covid figures is ‘more people are dying by suicide than from this virus’. According to the founder of suicide prevention charity ‘Talk to Tom’ Ray Cullen, this is neither true or helpful.
‘I’m always very careful and concerned about the spreading of misinformation in relation to suicide figures,’ he said. ‘People don’t realise the danger of putting that information out there. Earlier in the pandemic there was a mad panic around a supposed 35 suicides that took place in a month in Galway. If even one incident of suicide is reported incorrectly, it’s something that’s very dangerous due to what we call the “contagion of suicide”.’
‘Basically, the theory states that if you see one suicide in an area, or even within a family, you’re more likely to see another and another. If someone is vulnerable to suicidal ideation and it’s being put out there that so many people are dying by suicide, it almost causes people to think that it’s okay. It’s like saying, “people will understand if you do it because of the pandemic”. These people are left to think that others couldn’t see a way out and didn’t get support. In actual fact the message we need to be getting out there is that it’s okay to feel this way, and lots of people are, but the help and support is there.’
Ray believes that there’s a constant tendency to accentuate the negative when it comes to the topic of suicide.
‘There’s this perception out there that we’re seeing an increase in suicides year in year out for the past ten years,’ he said. ‘In reality, the national rate has halved since 2012. We’ve seen a huge decrease every year over the last five years, but the perception is it’s getting higher.’
While comments proclaiming a huge spike in suicides caused by Covid-19 are wide of the mark, Ray says that Talk to Tom is undoubtedly busier since the pandemic began.
‘We have had an unprecedented number of calls from people in crisis,’ he said. ‘We’ve had to increase the size of our centre and increase the amount of therapists we have. Since the pandemic began, particularly during lockdown, we’ve seen a massive increase in demand for children’s services and we’ve had to introduce a much bigger child and adolescent brief.’
‘We’re hearing from the powers that be that an influx of people in crisis is to be expected during lockdown, but whether they will actually increase funding to help services like ours is anyone’s guess. In the meantime we just keep plugging away and try to be there for anyone who might need us, to ensure that there’s always someone at the end of the phone.’
Similarly, Pieta House on Francis Street in Wexford have been busy since Covid hit. Nationally, since the beginning of March Pieta has answered 10,000 calls directly relating to suicide, self-harm and suicide bereavement. In response to lockdown, the charity is launching a new, free video counselling service which consists of a session with a specialist therapist in a bid to bridge the gaps posed by a Level 5 lockdown.
Above all, at risk individuals are urged no to isolate themselves and to reach out to family and friends by phone or video calls to maintain contact and keep their spirits up. Also limiting time on social media and only picking up news from trusted sources is recommended.
Undoubtedly, services like Talk to Tom and Pieta House are vital as we work our way through this pandemic one week at a time, but the important message which the likes of Ray are keen to stress is that help is there and there is ALWAYS somebody to talk things out with. To access Talk to Tom’s services, call 0818 303061 or visit talktotom.ie. Pieta House’s team of counsellors are available 24/7 on 1800 247247.