Suicide continues to be a major issue in Ireland, but community-based programmes have a key role to play in tackling this challenge, it has been claimed.
Around 400 people die by suicide in Ireland every year. Suicide or Survive (SOS) is a suicide prevention organisation and according to its founder and CEO, Caroline McGuigan, progress has been made in tackling suicide in Ireland, but much more needs to be done.
"We need to continue to offer people choices and options where they can support, educate and inform themselves. Too often people feel they have nowhere to go or stigma gets in the way of expressing what's going on for them, especially around suicidal thoughts. This needs to change," Ms McGuigan explained.
Some years ago, she was ‘experiencing a lot of despair and felt that suicide was the only option'.
"I ended up in hospital and thankfully I got a second chance at life, but I also got to experience first hand the gaps in services," she notes.
She insisted that treatment needs to focus on empowerment, personal responsibility and choice of treatment, rather than focusing on drug treatment alone.
"There is a tendency to go for quick fixes but true understanding and recovery takes time. That's why counselling and therapy can be so important," Ms McGuigan said.
She founded SOS in 2003 and at the heart of its work is the Eden programme, which has been specially designed for people who have attempted suicide or have suicidal thoughts.
Over a six-month period, up to 16 participants are offered a welcoming and supportive weekly group environment, where they can develop tools to manage their own wellbeing.
The programme is delivered in partnership with the National Office of Suicide Prevention, the National Counselling Service and the local suicide resource officer in each area.
"Key to why Eden works is the fact that it empowers participants to make appropriate choices in terms of their day-to-day lives, and in particular during times of emotional crisis.
"The focus on choice here is key. Too often people are dictated to and told what is best for them. This is central to our ethos of empowerment, in respecting people, acknowledging them, and really seeing and hearing them," Ms McGuigan explained.
Marie, a participant of the programme, had struggled with suicidal thoughts in the past.
"The Eden program allowed me the opportunity to be in a safe space with others who knew exactly what it was like to struggle with suicidal thoughts. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking to regain control over their life and say goodbye to thoughts of death, while learning how to choose life instead," she said.
Eden has been comprehensively evaluated by Dublin City University (DCU) and is widely regarded as a cost-effective intervention that offers a unique community-based support.
It is currently being offered with HSE partners in Dublin, Galway, Mayo and Roscommon and it is hoped that it will be expanded into other regions in the future.
According to Mary Kilcommins Greene, acting director of the National Counselling Service, the programme offers people a unique safe space.
"To walk into a room with people who are in the same position, it makes them feel at home. It gives them a sense of safety, so that they can be okay in how they are. The essence of the Eden programme is about choice. It's about the person learning about their own choices in their own life and recognising how to move that on," she noted.
Meanwhile, according to Mary O'Sullivan, a resource officer for suicide prevention in Galway, the programme offers people ‘another option' to existing services.
"It is also making a different service available in rural Ireland, which is really important. And we're making sure that the programme is very evidence-based and offered in a very safe way," she pointed out.
Ms McGuigan acknowledged that the involvement of agencies like the HSE and the National Counselling Service is key to Eden's success, and there is growing interest from health agencies throughout Ireland and internationally in bringing the programme to their locality.
"None of us can do this alone. That's why we need everyone working together - the charities, community leaders, the Government, the health services, the media.
"We know what we are doing is working. We have the evaluations, the evidence, the testimonies. We have seen people realise that there is an alternative to suicide and go on to live full and happy lives. Everyone deserves this opportunity," she added.
For more information on the Eden programme, view here.
For more information on SOS, click here.
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