THE introduction of a new three-year suicide prevention strategy will provide greater assistance to Clare gardaí in their work to help those suffering from psychological distress.
In relation to the new Connecting for Life Suicide Prevention Action Plan, steering group member Chief Superintendent John Kerin said, for the first time, this gives gardaí more of a focus as to who in communities can help people suffering from acute distress.
“Previously, gardaí were often the first responders and there really wasn’t a great follow-up. But now, getting involved in the Connecting for Life process, we understand all the agencies that can help,” he said.
Superintendent Kerin said virtually every garda in the Clare division has completed training in the area of suicide prevention and awareness.
Acknowledging that gardaí have engaged in acts of self-harm and have died by suicide, Superintendent Kerin said garda management is very aware of this issue and noted that a 24-hour independent service is available to gardaí who have serious issues.
Superintendent Kerin said Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan recognised this was a necessity last year and brought in an independent service to take over this work, so that gardaí were no longer talking to gardaí.
Praising the work previously conducted by garda welfare officers, he said some gardaí feel more comfortable talking to people who are not part of the organisation.
“As part of our engagement with gardaí on a regular basis, we continually encourage them to talk about issues and problems and not to see this as a weakness. When I joined the gardaí, if someone sought help, people thought they were weak. But we now say that you are actually stronger by doing this, so hopefully more gardaí who need help will seek it,” he said.
He pointed out that different incidents affect people in different ways.
“I remember going to the Buttevant train crash when I was a young garda. Nineteen people were killed and hundreds were injured. It had no impact on me but my colleague who was with me was devastated. Three months later, I went to the scene of a cot death and I was devastated but it didn’t affect him.
“We have to understand that everyone comes from different backgrounds and it is important to create awareness that some people may have issues with something that you may not have an issue with,” he said.
Acknowledging that a suicide leaves many unanswered questions, he pointed out that for every death, there may be up to 20 attempted suicides and many more self-harm acts.
He said it is vital to ensure that people who attempt suicide or self-harm don’t progress to take their own lives and are assisted through early intervention and proper supports with the help of organisations and volunteers within communities.
“In the course of our work as gardaí we witness far too often the tragedy and pain for families when we attend at a scene where someone has seriously self-harmed or completed suicide. Every day we encounter vulnerable people in the course of our work.
“Being part of Connecting for Life has not only produced a plan but has also, through the process, created new inter-agency relationships. It is the work resulting from those relationships that we hope will help us tackle this all-too-often tragic occurrence,” he said.
Connecting for Life was officially launched by Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Helen McEntee last week.
By Dan Danaher