Helicopters and Galway have always had a strange relationship. For a decade or so, the chopper was the preferred mode of transport for the moneyed classes who made their way to and from Ballybrit - the air above the city becoming almost as congested as the traffic lanes below.
However in recent years, the sound of a helicopter has taken on a more sombre resonance for the people of the city. Locals have become attuned to the sound and sight of the Sikorsky with its distinctive nose as it hovers above the city. In an era when news becomes instant, the sound of the helicopter, its beamlights focussed down on the city makes our social media light up with comments from people assuming that 'some poor person must in the water’.
Water runs right through the heart of the city, its most ferocious openings at those spaces adjacent to where the city parties. For generations, the river through the city has acted as some form of suicide magnet, drawing people towards it with tragic and harrowing consequences. The river has always been seen as a location for impulse suicides and there are many cases where rescued people have revealed the regret at their decision as soon as they jumped. For those who were not rescued, we will never know.
This week in association with Dillon O'Malley of the Galway Suicide Watch Facebook page, we asked people to volunteer their services and expertise and to gauge support for an initiative which would see patrols of the city's bridges, and within two days, the number of followers had grown from less than a dozen to more than 9,500. This shows the great support there is for the concept of a suicide watch or for any system that will rid this generation of the perceived helplessness that is taking away so many of its members.
Galway Suicide Watch hopes to provide a service based on the successful service provided by the CSPP suicide prevention service in Limerick who patrol the River Shannon and its four bridges in Limerick by means of volunteers on bicycles, and in the water using powerboats.
There have been many suggestions that netting be placed near the city bridges and while not the final answer, it too would prevent many of what are known as the impulse suicides.
There are many factors of this that would have to be worked out. There is a fine line between the invasion of civil liberties and being caring. We don't want a situation where anybody looking at the water is seen as a potential suicide victim, yet we want people who are considering it to realise that there is someone to help. However, the backers of the project stress that what they will be endeavouring to do is to guide people in need to the professional services that are available throughout the city.
Eighteen-year-old St Mary's student Dillon Browne wrote to me this week to outline how he feels existing infrastructures can be put in place to help reduce the number of people taking their lives. “As far as I know, the Fisheries Tower is not being used and could be changed into a suicide watch tower where services could be put in place to help people who are trying to end their own lives,” he wrote. Good point, which should be explored.
Having such an iconic building have such a different use would also reduce the stigma of discussing mental health.
Galway is fortunate to have a young vibrant population. It is also a city that is very inclusive, but with every inclusion, there is exclusion. Lest we think that everyone walking the streets around us today is smiling happily on the inside, there are people who feel invisible, who feel they have nobody to talk to, who feel that they are failing themselves and others.
Galway Suicide Watch is a noble goal that can be developed. One hopes that the momentum will gather pace so that many lives can be saved.