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Suicide conference’s aims to empower people in fight

Community standing shoulder to shoulder

By Ciara Quinn

COMMUNITY counselling and support organisations from across the North turned out in force last week to ‘break the silence’ at a joint suicide awareness conference.

The event, organised by PIPS and the Níamh Louise Foundation and supported by the Belfast Media Group, brought together a host of delegates to highlight mental wellbeing, resilience and suicide awareness and prevention.

The event, the first of its kind, was an opportunity for community organisations, groups, paramedics and counselling services to learn about the impact of trauma on our community and the importance of working together to deal with its effects.

Opening the conference at Conway Mill, Chair of the Health Committee Sinn Féin MLA Sue Ramsey spoke of the importance of “holding events such as these, so that we can focus on the issues of self harm, mental illness and suicide.”

“In our communities great work is being done on the ground by organisations such as PIPS and Níamh Louise. Some people might say that in terms of raising awareness of suicide prevention there is ‘all talk and no action’ – but events like this shows that action is happening. We are here to pool our expertise and resources together.

“For a long time depression and issues surrounding mental health became a silent illness – it can affect anyone at any time. We are a community that has been scarred by suicide and all government departments have to part to play in awareness and prevention,” she said.

PIPS founder Philip McTaggart, who lost his son Philip Óg or Pip to suicide, spoke of the need for essential funding to be delivered to suicide awareness and prevention groups throughout the North.

“I’d give anything not to be standing here addressing this conference today,” he said,  “if I could turn back the clock a bit believe you me I’d do it.”

Philip went on to ask when funding was going to start for the excellent work being done.

As Philip spoke a slideshow of his young son from his first birthday to family gatherings was shown in the background.

“Philip was not a number, he isn’t a statistic, he was a son who was loved and cherished everyday and is missed. When he was born he was a gift and when he died that gift was gone – but he is giving a gift back to us by trying to make us work and come along to do something about the issue of suicide and its prevention. The important thing is that you are all here today including services from Lifeline, New Life Counselling and the Samaritans and we must stand shoulder to shoulder with the community to get our message and work out there.”

Catherine McBennett, who lost her 15-year-old daughter Níamh to suicide, set up the Níamh Louise Foundation in her memory in 2006.

“I wanted to create awareness of the impact and issue of suicide awareness in my area. The idea around this conference is to empower people to come forward if and when they are in a time of need – everyone needs to be listen to others – early detection of warning signs can save lives.

“It has been seven years since we lost Níamh and my heart generally sighs when I think of her, we have been blessed with three other beautiful children and it is our intention that the work around suicide prevention and awareness will continue and that events like this conference will provide a bigger platform to get our message across.”



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