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‘Revolution’ needed after the suicide of second son

By Evan Short

A ‘revolution’ in how our community deals with depression is needed following the death of a family’s second son to suicide, a leading mental health campaigner has said.

Phillip McTaggart of suicide prevention group Pips was speaking after Oldpark man Kieran Ferrin took his own life last weekend. The tragic passing of the 24-year-old brings to five the number of people known to have taken their own lives from December in North Belfast and brings another horrific tragedy to the Ferrin family. Both Kieran’s brother, Niall and cousin Christopher died – both at the age of 19 – after taking their own lives. Niall died in April 2011 while Christopher was found dead in an east Belfast park in August 2010 five days after leaving the Mater Hospital in a distressed state despite waiting eight hours for help.

The Ferrin family have been active campaigners on the issue of mental health and have flagged up failings in the health system in dealing with people suffering from depression.

Kieran, like his brother Niall before him was the victim of a vicious attack last year. At the time his mother Patricia told the North Belfast News she feared for his mental health.  This week the family were too distressed to speak however both Phillip McTaggart and local priest, Fr Martin Magill have said a new approach is desperately needed to the issue of mental health.

Philip McTaggart said more resources were needed alongside training so people could read the danger signs.

“From December to now five people have taken their own lives, and that is only the people Pips have been made aware of. We need families, friends and the community to be trained in spotting the danger signs so those going through tough times can be pointed in the direction of counselling and support.”

Philip said if five people in an area as small as Ardoyne, Oldpark and New Lodge had died from road accidents urgent strategies would have already been put in place.

“There needs to be more money put into mental health. At the moment the budget is around £7.5 million, with £5 million going to the Lifeline helpline.

“They do fantastic work but once that money is taken out, there is not much left for other charities that deal with these issues.”

He pointed to the work going on with road safety as an example of what could be done.

“While it’s not the same, the road safety adverts show what can be done with a serious issue. They have award winning advertisements and I think we also need to think out of the box when it comes to the issue of suicide.”

Fr Martin Magill, from Sacred Heart Church in Oldpark, echoed Philip’s call, saying he believed a more focused effort was needed in offering support to those who are vulnerable.

“I think last year figures indicated that 56 people lost their lives in road traffic collisions across Northern Ireland, but the figure for people taking their own lives was around five times that.

“The campaign to highlight road traffic safety is very powerful, and I wonder if there could be a more co-ordinated effort, or an equal amount of resources, given over to a campaign raising awareness around the issues of mental health. Particularly given the high number of tragic cases.”

Fr Magill, who has been at the parish six months but has already seen first hand the impact of these tragedies, said it is an extremely “traumatic time” for families.

“The reality is this is a growing issue that needs to be tackled. I would urge the importance for people to talk to others when they are facing problems. In certain circumstances it can be difficult for anyone to ask for help, but this is when support from others is crucial.”

Meanwhile Philip said PIPS will soon start training programmes for sport coaches and members of the community who want to learn how to help loved ones who suffer from depression and are at risk.

“At this time of year people find it difficult – the figures show even moreso than Christmas.  People need to be aware of the signs and pick up on those signs.

“What happened to Kieran is tragic and everyone at Pips sends their condolences.”

For more information or if you or a family member needs someone to talk to, Pips can be contacted on 90 805 850.

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