The man who founded one of the north’s leading suicide charities after the death of his son eleven years ago is to leave the organisation to “find his laughter again”.
Philip McTaggart, who along with others founded PIPS in 2003, has spoken openly about the impact of the job and how, after a decade of helping families bereaved through suicide, he has decided to move on. Saying he would always be available to help the organisation which bears his beloved son’s name, he reflected that he hadn’t come looking for the role that it, tragically, had come looking for him.
Adding that he would still be involved in mental health campaigning and, to that end, would be setting up his own website and would continue to deliver training, he believed however that now is the right time to move on.
“The job for me was 24/7. It impacted me, it impacted on the rest of my family, and I want to try and find my laughter again. I want to try and spend time with my family. My twins are 11 – they were five months old when Pip died – and I want to spend more time with them and my wife Kelly.”
The decision to step down was taken last year, he says.
“Last year was Philip’s tenth anniversary and a big milestone. That hit me hard. Then I lost my mother at the end of March and that’s when I decided I would look at stepping down.”
The man who had become for many the face of suicide awareness and prevention said the mental toll of visiting the homes of bereaved families was something that had become more difficult, as had being exclusively associated with what is a difficult issue for many people to discuss.
“A man had died through suicide, and I had been speaking to the family, and a lady said to me later ‘my sister said she didn’t realise it was a suicide until she saw you’. I am more than that. I am a father, a husband, a brother - I’m a whole lot of things.
I just thought ‘is that what people think about me?’
“Heartache and pain will affect everyone and anyone, and it can keep you awake at night.
“The saddest thing for me however was that I didn’t always have the time to get back to houses after visiting once. I didn’t have the time, and that hurt me - but I just couldn’t.”
However despite the tough times, Philip says there have also been highs during his time with the charity.
“I look upon it now as an experience where there’s been a lot of heartache and a lot of pain but I enjoyed doing the work and I felt very comfortable doing that work. I felt it was a place where I was meant to be, strangely enough.
“This has been a journey in my life that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but like many other people it came to our door and it was a journey we had to go through.”
Philip says there are many people who helped get Pips off the ground, and for that he will always be grateful.
“We couldn’t have done it without Gerry Adams. He was making contacts with officials when we got started and personally did a lot for suicide prevention and brought in all the other politicians.
“I also want to sincerely thank everyone who has helped me over the years, who provided us with websites, furniture, all sorts of things. Without their help, Pips wouldn’t be here.
“The community have always stood behind us and supported us.
“I want to thank a good friend of mine from Ardoyne, who did well for himself, and lent me a substantial amount of money to buy the two houses that are now the Pips offices. The North Belfast News was also there every step of the way, highlighting the issues and giving support. Everybody that did something, no matter how small, have contributed to saving lives.”
He said he would always be available to help Pips in the future.
“I wish Pips and everyone involved the very best moving on, and if there’s anything I can ever do for them I will be there.”
He says he will continue to work in the realm of mental health campaigning, but in a reduced way.
“I am only looking at this as the end of a chapter. I have found something, clearly that I am meant to be at. I will continue to support people and campaign for better services, and I hope also to deliver my own training that impacts peoples lives and will give people the skills to understand what depression is, what stress is, what we can do to prevent suicide.
“I will hopefully in the next couple of months be launching a website and begin delivering training in schools.”