‘My best friend’s life was in these statistics’

SDLP Councillor Cara Hunter.
SDLP Councillor Cara Hunter.

The Deputy Mayor Cara Hunter has spoken of the loss of her best friend to suicide while calling for more mental health services funding.

She paid tribute to her late friend Zachary Geddis at the October meeting of Derry City & Strabane District Council.

Zachary (20) died two years ago and the Zachary Geddis Break the Silence Trust has been set up in his memory.

Colr. Hunter referred to the loss while urging councillors to recognise “the dire need for an increase in mental health funding”in Derry.

“When I was sifting through the statistics for this motion from 1995 to 2017 it was extremely difficult because my best friend’s life was included in these statistics. His life of 20 years was just a number on a page. He’s just a statistic and I don’t want that for anyone else,” she said.

Colr. Hunter noted how the violence of the Troubles had given way to a more insidious killer, stating: “Political tensions are still killing us here in the North but no longer by bomb or by bullet, in a very different way, a lack of political representation throughout a suicide epidemic and a blind eye to the evident and ever present mental health crisis.”

DUP Alderman Ryan McCready said: “I’ve also suffered the loss of several friends due to post-traumatic stress disorder which is not easy to deal with at the best of times and then to make it worse in isolation.”

Sinn Féin Councillor Ruairí McHugh said: “Mental health here in the North of Ireland is in a dire situation. We have some of the highest rates of suicide and indeed mental health issues across these islands and I think we are one of the highest areas throughout the world for prescriptions for anti-depressants.”

Colr. Hunter’s motion included the clause that Council write to the Assembly parties urging them to “restore power sharing and prioritise emergency funds for mental health facilities”. Sinn Féin amended this to include the proviso that the restoration take place on the “basis of equality and rights”. There followed some debate about the effectiveness of Stormont.

Alliance Councillor Philip McKinney, who also referred to a personal bereavement during the debate, said: “As a party we don’t have a problem with the change but I’d just like to say this is not really a subject to be used as political football.”

People Before Profit Councillor Eamonn McCann said: “The crisis in mental health, the levels of suicide have got very little, if anything, to do with the collapse of Stormont.

“I’ll tell you what they might have to do with: the aftermath of a bloody and futile armed conflict.”

Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly said he wanted proper investment in mental health facilities but rejected Stormont as a remedy, saying this would merely place a “bandage on the wound”.

“Unfortunately I can’t support this motion but I don’t want to come across as being cold because we all live with the issue of mental health, particularly elected representatives, we deal with people on a daily basis. We need a proper government in this country that will deal with these issues properly,” he said.