When speaking about mental health issues, many commentators encourage people to ‘talk about it’ and ‘ask for help.’
These aren’t just hollow words. Accessing help and speaking about how you feel truly does help, as evidenced by those who have sought the support of Pieta House North West.
The centre, overseen by centre manager Dominick Gallagher, is based in Letterkenny, Donegal but also helps people from other areas including Derry, Strabane and Omagh.
It opened its doors in May, 2017 and in one year, helped 330 people. Everything is free of charge and professional staff provide a one-on-one therapeutic service for those experiencing suicidal ideation, who have attempted suicide and/or who engage in self harm. They also provide bereavement therapy to families bereaved by suicide.
Dominick told how the numbers attending the crisis centre highlight just how much it is needed within the North West.
He said: “The main organisation is based in Dublin and before we opened, I don’t think they were expecting the numbers to be as high. But, from the very first day, people came in and it has been steady ever since.”
Pieta House has no age barrier, so works with children and adolescents as well as adults. A GP referral is not needed. Anyone over 18 can self-refer and Pieta House links directly with the family of under 18s. When someone attends the centre, the therapists assess the level of risk to that person and undertake a safety plan. They ensure the person is kept safe and determine the next plan of action going forward. On the odd occasion, it is determined that someone is in need of a different service to that offered by the centre and if so, Pieta House will make the appropriate referral.
There are currently six therapists at Pieta House North West, of which Dominick is one. The demand was so high that new therapists have been taken on over the past year, with the most recent taking up their post earlier this week. An outreach service in Sligo is also nearing completion and Dominick said they hope to establish further outreach clinics in the near future.
Clients are provided with one-to-one therapy and Dominick told how its benefits can be clear to see.
He said: “To be honest, there can be such a dramatic change in people. I’d do a lot of assessments (when people come in) and they’re in such distress and anguish. Then you see them finishing up and they’re happy and feeling like they can go on with life.”
Pieta House also have a Suicide Bereavement Liaison Officer, Marie Burke, who supports families bereaved by suicide, either recently or in the past. Dominick told how one family had been bereaved over 20 years ago. Practical support is initially offered, followed by bereavement therapy, if needed. Dominick outlined how some friends of those who died by suicide, particularly those who were quite young, have also benefited from the therapy.
He told how, in his opinion, attitudes to mental health are now changing, particularly with youth.
“I do see an improvement. I think, especially in Donegal, where there are lots of rural areas, there was a stigma attached. If people had depression, people would look at them as if they were mad. It was very dismissive and demeaning and would really hurt people. They didn’t then want to be labelled and I think that’s where a lot of people became lost. At the last Darkness Into Light, which fundraises for Pieta House, it was great to see so many people of different ages there. They were doing it for a family member or friend and saying: ‘talk to someone if you’re feeling that way.’ I see more acceptance now with younger people, especially with boys. We’d see a lot of fellas coming in here and it was their friends who encouraged them.”
Dominick was full of praise for everyone who fundraises for Pieta House. Around 80% of the centre’s funding comes from fundraising and donations. 15-20% comes from the HSE but mainly goes towards bereavement services.
Dominick stressed how the most important step for anyone experiencing mental health difficulties is asking for help.
He said: “A lot of people can get stuck. When people are dealing with deep anxiety or depression it can take them to a place where they can only see one option and that’s when they’re in a dark place. Ask for help. Talk to someone. It is there. And, if you go to a service and find it’s not helping you, please go somewhere else. You are not on your own.”
You can contact Pieta House North West on (00353) 7491 26594. It is open Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm. You can contact Pieta House nationally, any hour of the day, on freecall 1800247247 or text HELP to 51444. See www.pieta.ie.