We have all been touched by the incidence of suicide in our communities. But how can we help, as individuals, as a community, and as a society?
Speaking at the public forum “How should we respond to the Suicide Crisis?” in Sandyford Community Centre on September 26th 2014, Dr John Hillery, Consultant Psychiatrist at Stewarts Hospital and St John of God Hospital and a specialist in the concept of Resilience in the face of life’s difficulties, said: “We should be investing in services for people with mental health problems but we should also be investing in teaching people the skills that will protect their mental health. Studies of suicide show that poor problem solving skills and marginalisation are key factors in attempted suicide.
“The main tool an individual can hone to support their mental health is Resilience. Resilience is the capacity to withstand stress and catastrophe. We have all emotionally survived situations which we are surprised we did. Being Resilient does not mean going through life without experiencing stress and pain. Being Resilient means having the capacity to work through the emotions and effects of stressful and painful events. This is something that can be taught and learnt. Research is showing that children taught skills in problem-solving and self-management from an early age are more likely to successfully integrate into society and less likely to have mental health problems. The work of George Vaillant at Harvard in studying people through their life span shows that ‘… it is social aptitude, not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that leads to successful ageing.’ The encouraging fact is that the necessary skills such as Resilience can be developed or improved on at any age.” Of course, in cases where a pre-existing mental health condition is present, a different course of action must be pursued.
“Resilience is found in a variety of behaviours, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed across the life span. These include: close personal relationships; a positive view of oneself and confidence in one’s strengths and abilities; the ability to manage strong feelings and impulses; good problem-solving and communication skills; the ability to seek help; coping with stress in healthy ways and avoiding harmful coping strategies, such as substance abuse, especially alcohol, which has been proven to lead to impulsive suicide attempts and self-harm; helping others; and finding positive meaning in life despite difficult or traumatic events.
“Resilient communities are inclusive and supportive. All communities have people who can help others to problem solve or to become included or to lead a healthier life. We must use the resources of our communities, for example, Sandyford Community Centre, to build healthier, more Resilient communities and individuals. Successful local communities can provide social support to vulnerable people, engage in supportive care, fight stigma, and support those bereaved by suicide.”
Dr Hillery’s recommendation that Resilience should be part of the primary and second level curricula in schools was met with a spontaneous round of applause.
Professor Ella Arensman’s presentation will be published in the next issue of Panorama.
- Samaritans telephone number: 116 123
- Carol Ann Milton, National Coordinator of Living Links, a suicide bereavement support organisation: 0874122052
- What can we do about Suicide in the New Ireland: Applying the benefits of experience and research to the prevention of suicide and to the support of the bereaved in Ireland- A Special Paper on Suicide by Senator Mary White, available at www.senatormarywhite.ie/issues
I would like to thank Fiachra O Mathuna, Manager of Sandyford Community Centre and Marian Horan of Panorama for all of their stellar support. Last but not least, I want to thank everyone who attended on the evening for helping to make the forum such a resounding success.