Thursday, September 10th was World Suicide Awareness Prevention Day, a day which will live in the minds of so many people both here in Ireland and worldwide, writes farmer, Mattie White, a suckler farmer from Co. Wexford.
It is an issue, which in this country and in my own parish and neighbouring parishes, over the last number of years, has silently taken too many of Ireland’s sons and daughters before their time.
For some, the fear of suicide is a daily fight against the fear of living not dying, as to take their life is the only way they can ever see any form of peace.
Many believe the problem, if you want to call it, that of suicide is one to be hushed away under a veil of secrecy, or shame.
A selfish act only committed by cowardly people
Over the years, I have heard it called a selfish act only committed by cowardly people who care for nobody but themselves. Well, I am here now to set the record straight. For some, the black dog, the dark dark, the constant darkness, is something that calls once too often, and draws a person to the final curtain call on their life here.
The aftermath of this action, resonates for years, in a rippling effect, of pain tears and heart ache for those who are left behind.
Families, communities, friends, workmates, class colleagues, the lists go on of the ones left wondering why.
They, then the fallen loved ones who have gone with their reasons through suicide, are then recorded as victims, statistics, faceless names on a report, but they are far from this they are some one’s sons and daughters.
To put in figures, to explain, one in every five people in Ireland at present will probably suffer some form of mental health experience.
In 2018, over one suicide a day took place in Ireland. They now reside in the heart and memories of those who knew them, but what of the aftermath?
To tell you what I believe is to tell you my story. I have suffered with mental health at a young age.
In my mid-teens, I often found myself lonely and unable to communicate what was going on in my mind to others.
Some of the issues would have come from having very little self-esteem and not being good in school, or around girls.
As the years passed, I struggled along carrying the smile on my face and keeping the mask off, I am doing fine, well-entrenched.
As I got to my early twenties, I was like anyone of my age, enjoying life on the outside, but on the inside, I was struggling harder and harder with my mental thoughts as time went on.
I carried my crosses, talking to friends about this and that from time to time but never really revealing what was really at play in the background.
To set it clear, what people saw was a flesh and blood person. What I saw was an unlovable creature to be done away with.
Mental health was never something to be discussed as such as I grew up. It was a case of cop on, pull yourself together, men don’t cry or suffer, that sort of thing.
Well, men do suffer; with mental health and it’s not always tears and sniffling. A lot of the time it’s laughing, helping out going to work and been what people call normal, whatever normal is.
Fast forward to my more recent years of family, farming and general running a business and working.
Like anyone, mortgage payments, being a parent, a husband, farmer etc, life went on. Each day presented its different challenges and were overcome.
Then in 2012, things started to take a turn down words, with a bad year of weather and stock.
Money became tight and this only added to the pressure already feeding the sleepless nights and the panic of wondering what needs to be done next, where will the money come from, what about my wife and daughter?
Then comes, 2013, things finally have to be faced up to. There is going to be trouble, banks loans are not going to be met, now the real hurt begins, I have finally done what I said would never happen on my watch, I have buried my family in debt.
My fall from grace had finally come, my moments of I am a great lad were over. The stark realisation of this came when in a meeting in the bank I was told: “look at the food you’re buying to put on your table to cut your costs”.
As a man who never went anywhere with his family, built-up my family farm as best as I could with my family’s help, this was it, I had finally failed.
I had become the greatest disappointment to those who mattered most. How could I have let this happen, I now had the hard decision of selling land to clear debt to make or try resolve in other means by a 5-year restructure, which was not forthcoming.
The bank was not to be blamed, in my opinion, for my borrowing of €40,000… that was my responsibility to pay back and is still my belief today.
The issue was with the way they handled it, and the feeling of criminality which was served upon my unfortunate family and I who I had dragged down with me.
Selling a block of land
In October 2013, I made my hardest decision at that time to sell a block of land and clearing all debts, thinking this would save me from the insanity of my innermost thoughts of ending my life.
The land was sold in April 2014 and things were sorted out to a good degree, but still, the sleepless nights, the worry about family and what others thought of me continued.
Now sinking deep into a state when I didn’t want to get up in the morning and sometimes could not even face the thought of eating, it slowly worsened.
Then, in November of 2014, my wife found me in the process of my first attempt on my life, in our bedroom.
She walked in to find me on the bed with something that was going to help me end it all. My only memories of that moment are the tears falling from her eyes, as she asked what I was doing.
I could not remember responding, and her words as she walked away, “your daughter”.
I cannot say remembering what I did or thought next, only that those words have stayed with me since.
Second and third attempts
The months went by and I was doing ok for a while, until April 2015, when in a shed, I tried my second attempt, sitting there with another method I had come up with, for hours constantly crying without been able to control or stop.
Eventually coming back to them words, your daughter, what was I doing to my wife and daughter how would the cope?
In May 2015, I made my last attempt, when I tried to see if I could make it look like an accident.
Shortly after that, I had to come to the terms that I needed to seek help to talk things out and I did, but even after that I struggled.
Then a friend got me onto a farm discussion group where I slowly began to find help without people knowing.
I could be a farmer, and get things off my chest with people who understood where I was coming from.
Overtime with help of medication and my GP, I finally started to take directions towards a better mental state with the help of my family and close friends.
In 2018, after the fodder crisis in April, I had received message after message from people who were struggling with things.
And in November 2018, I placed a video of my first attempt on social media, which went viral. With the help of others, we raised more than €3,500 for the Movember Fund, which deals with men’s mental health and cancer.
Since 2018, my phone has seen hundreds perhaps even more messages from people, with thanks, praise, and asking for advice and help on how to cope with the struggle of mental health.
To understand the problems, we have first to break the stigma surrounding it, to make it acceptable for people to talk about mental health in a society where people don’t cower away from the issues causing it.
Two questions I was asked that have stayed with me about my own experience are 1) Were you not afraid of dying? My answer was no, I was afraid of living and 2) how do you feel about being a survivor of suicide? My answer, you don’t survive suicide, if you carry the act through you don’t come back.
Part of the stigma is the phrase commit suicide; we need to stop treating suicide as a crime.
Suicide is the last desperate cry for help from someone who can no longer go on, not a crime. Two questions
The two questions I have believed for years that connect each suicide are why didn’t we see it coming and what drove them to it. The two defining words being why and pressure.
Where there’s life, there’s hope
I would love to go to groups or schools to do talks on this but each time I look into it, you have to be garda0vetted for each place individually.
We say the system is bad and broken, but yet we’re all a part of the system, so let us all help in our own way to fix it and make it work.
Stop expecting everyone else to carry the can and do our own bit regardless of how big or small.
Three things I would say to anyone finding things tough at the moment, don’t regret the past it’s gone, don’t fear the future, it’s yours to decide, and don’t let the present define you.
We all have a part to play in the grand scheme of things, and we all can help. Suicide does not worry about sexuality, creed, colour, rich or poor, why should we let it stop us?
I will stay doing all that I can to help those who come to me, and I hope to try in the coming months to set up some form of social media page to try to get the messages out there.
I am proof that you can live through attempted suicide and mental illness. What ye say, we change the mindset a day at a time? My motto in life now is where there’s life, there’s hope.
My deepest thanks to my wife, Jacqueline, and my daughter, Aoife, for sticking by me.