Derry’s Eamonn Seydak helps assess response to suicide in Ballyfermot

Earlier this year the Health Service Executive’s National Office of Suicide Prevention (HSE NOSP) appointed S3 Solutions Ltd. to carry out a rapid assessment of the community response to a suicide cluster in Ballyfermot in 2019.

Tasked with leading the assessment was Eamonn Seydak, consultancy director, at S3 Solutions, who is perhaps better known in Derry as a former footballer who played in defence with Institute, Finn Harps and Cliftonville until he hung up his boots two years ago.

The newly-published ‘Rapid Assessment and Community Response to Suicide in Dublin South’ report outlines the perceived area-level factors influencing the cluster and related contagion in the south west Dublin area in 2019. Aligned to the HSE’s Connecting for Life Local Suicide Prevention Action Plan for Dublin South, it’s been broadly welcomed by suicide prevention and community workers in the area.

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The ‘Journal’ caught up with Eamonn to discuss the sensitive project and how some of the factors at play in Ballyfermot are similar to those which suicide prevention specialists are familiar with in his home town.

Eamonn Seydak.Eamonn Seydak.
Eamonn Seydak.

Why was the report commissioned in the first place?

The report is titled a Rapid Assessment and Community Response to Suicide and Suspected Suicide, it focuses on the Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard areas in South Dublin.

The HSE National Office of Suicide Prevention commissioned the report following eight suicides over a 10 week period in the Spring/Summer 2019. The eight suicides were all young women and several were young mothers.

In fact since 2017, women are as likely to die by suicide in that area as men. In contrast, women are three times less likely to die by suicide than men nationally.

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There was a real sense of anxiety and fear in the community about the potential for further suicides, so the research was commissioned for two key reasons: to efficiently work with key stakeholders to gain insights and understanding about the range of factors that may be affecting suicidal behaviour in the community and to identify how best to support those impacted to minimise any possible contagion.

What were your findings?

The Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard areas are extremely disadvantaged, there are high proportions of lone parent families (as high as 68% in some areas compared to 24% across Ireland), low educational achievement and high levels of unemployment.

We know there is a strong link between deprivation and suicide and therefore the baseline position for the area is a higher risk factor.

Issues such as domestic violence and drug misuse featured heavily. Cocaine was identified as the main problem drug.

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In addition, those that we interviewed talked a lot about adverse childhood experiences and how this was creating an underlying trauma for many in the community.

The housing crisis in the Republic of Ireland is well documented and we heard about lone parent families (e.g. a mother of three) waiting for years for a house and being ‘put up in hotels’ as far away as Kildare (often 25km +) and then having to try and get their kids to school each morning adding significant pressure and strain.

One of the key findings was that despite there being quite a lot of services in the area, many struggle to engage young women because of a fear that exists about being perceived as a bad mother or that their involvement in a service could trigger social services.

The challenges are complex and multi-faceted and often young women face multiple barriers which can intensify feelings of strain and isolation.

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What similarities did you find between Ballyfermot and your own city?

I found a lot of similarities between both communities, there’s a strong working class background and strong history of community activism that I think permeates both communities.

The stand out for me was an enduring sense of pride amongst the people of Ballyfermot in their community and their willingness to come together to try and tackle this challenge.

Several of those we interviewed referenced the stone soup story which is about the value of coming together and sharing – I think that’s also evident in Derry.

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There’s also a strong network of community and voluntary organisations in the Ballyfermot community, and that’s replicated here.

We’ve worked a lot with the likes of Bogside Brandywell Health Forum, Old Library Trust, Greater Shantallow Area Partnership and others and there are lots of similarities in how groups come together to develop and deliver services.

What were the report’s recommendations?

Central to our recommendation was the development of a community leadership team that could head up a community response.

They have acted on that and have established SPACE (Suicide Prevention and Community Engagement) team who will seek to implement the other recommendations around training local residents, developing critical incident protocols, developing peer support networks and lobbying for enhanced under 18 and outreach support for young women.

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We also made some strategic recommendations like the participation of both St James Hospital and Tallaght Hospital in the National Clinical Programme for the Assessment and Management of Patients Presenting to Emergency Departments following Self-harm

What could be learned from your findings in Ballyfermot that could be applied in other areas, including Derry?

There are areas of learning around critical incident protocols and how they can be managed, and also about how organisations offer support and engage with particularly target groups.

Whilst there are differences in terms of the nature of suicide... there are similarities in terms of the need for additional services.

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In Ballyfermot, the level of statutory mental health staff on the ground does not align with the extent and prevalence of need in the area, for example there is no adult primary care psychologists in the area and we know in Derry there has been a strong lobby for enhanced mental health support.

There is potentially an opportunity to look at collective lobbying for cross border/all island type supports for areas of disadvantage that are facing similar challenges.

Who are S3 Solutions Ltd.?

We are an independent public and 3rd sector consultancy company established in 2013. We provide traditional consulting services such as research, evaluation, social return on investment, feasibility study and strategic planning, as well as a subscription service which assists non-profit organisations from grass roots sports clubs to large regional charities to source funding, develop facilities, write tenders and more. We currently work with 172 organisations from across Ireland.

We employ 16 people and whilst are headquarters are located in Belfast, we are proud to have a regional office here in Derry and we hope to extend the Derry presence in the team over the next while.

**The Lifeline helpline is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Anyone of any age living in the North can call for free on 0808 808 8000 if they are experiencing distress or despair.