Please walk Please Talk

By Paul Evans

Since the Road Safety Authority announced on June 22 the 41 percent decrease in road fatalities since 2001, Ireland has been hit with a number of road tragedies, culminating in two separate collisions in Donegal and Kerry where a combined 11 people lost their lives. Ten of them were young males.

And yet road collisions remain only the second biggest killer of males in this age category. Suicide remains the more deadly issue.

Paul Kelly, founder of the suicide bereavement support network Console, recently bemoaned the cuts in the mental health services in Ireland. Kelly said that at least 527 people had died by suicide in 2009 (the actual figure is believed to be anywhere between 5-25 percent higher than this due to a large number of undetermined deaths) compared to 239 people who died on the roads.

He also pointed out that road safety has eight times the budget mental health currently receives. Why is this?

Suicide is the great taboo subject. We are a nation that doesn’t know how to deal with the matter. Our youth record in the EU is among the worst. Our reaction, too, to this plague has often been rather lagging. It took until October 2009 for the first suicide intervention helpline, 1Life, to be set up. Many of the problems that arise with mental health may stem from at the general lack of presentation to the public.

Perhaps this is best illustrated with the PleaseTalk campaign. Launched in 2007 the campaign has sought to promote “talking as a sign of strength, not weakness” throughout colleges nationwide.

Let’s go beyond the staid and unconvincing picture of the kid, and the motto which is hardly going to affect the state of mind of someone in distress. Since its inception the campaign has focused largely on the three websites it had developed, each with a link for every member college. Clicking on these links will lead you to a page copied and pasted from each of the respective college websites providing whatever information on counsellors, chaplains, etc. that was posted on that college’s webpage.

That in itself is not so much an issue as the lack of information presented on the main part of the site: There are no data on mental health issues in Ireland, no advice on what to do if you are struggling with a problem, nor a list of services available to people.

Major mental health institutions, such as AA, Aware and Console, are not listed anywhere on the website. The useful links page largely contains a list of much better versions of what we can only presume PleaseTalk was meant to be. It has been an inert, lazy campaign thus far.

Questions should be asked not so much about the reasons for this campaign but why it isn’t doing a lot more for the money it has received. Trinity’s SU basement is awash with unused publicity material worth thousands of euros.

With HeadsUp, YSPI,, and the state-backed we already have five websites that do a much better job than PleaseTalk (and, in most cases, for less money) in presenting information to young people. None of these, however, present a complete list of nationwide helpline and counselling services and information on prevalent mental health issues. Maybe over the course of its second three-year plan PleaseTalk will provide this. But PleaseTalk, ultimately, remains just one portion of a much suicide crisis in Ireland.

1Life 24-hour Intervention Helpline: 1800 24 7 100
Niteline Listening Service:
1800 793 793
Samaritans: 1850 60 90 90