Teacher hopes poignant song will help stem the tide of suicide

A teacher at a city secondary school has released a CD in response to what he terms the “awful tragedy that is suicide”.

Gerry Kennedy, who has been teaching English at St Joseph’s College, the “Bish”, for 15 years wrote the song 'Don’t Turn Out The Light' following the passing of several people, mostly young, who found it impossible to carry on.

The single, which was launched at OMG Zhivago recently, will raise funds for Pieta House, the suicide and self-harm crisis centre in Tuam, and Grow, Ireland’s largest community based mental health charity.

Mr Kennedy, a singer/songwriter as well as a well liked and highly regarded teacher, hopes the single will raise awareness about mental health, highlight the importance of offering hope, and reduce the stigma surrounding suicide.

“I have been teaching English in the Bish for about 15 years now and in the past seven years we have had two cases of suicide associated with the school,” he says. “One was a Leaving Cert student who took his life just six weeks before the exam. The other, and more recent, was a former student who had just completed his first year in university. Both cases saddened me deeply, especially the second one as I had taught him for three years and I had always found him to be a thoroughly decent and courteous boy.

“I wrote the song 'Don’t Turn Out The Light' as a sort of memorial to this boy and also, I suppose, because I wanted to respond in some way to this awful thing that is suicide. That young people in our society would even consider suicide must be a terrible indictment of the society that we have created for them. I posted the song on You Tube and when it quite quickly got a couple of thousand views, I decided to release it as a single to raise funds for GROW and Pieta House. The single is on sale in OMG Zhivago [it costs €5] and from other local outlets.”

Mr Kennedy, who is originally from Birr and who taught at St Mary’s College for two years before moving to the Bish, says his song urges people to “give themselves time to understand themselves”. Other messages are that people should “listen and not dismiss someone when there are signs they are feeling down”.

“It is important to try to get people to talk, Pieta House is brilliant in this regard,” he says. “Teenagers should be encouraged to talk. It is important children know they can talk and not be judged. The biggest thing parents can do is to listen and be available to listen when young people need to talk.”

Gerry Kennedy, a self taught musician who plays the guitar and piano, believes many young people are growing up without the coping skills necessary to deal with life’s challenges.

“Everything is accessible nowadays, people do not go through a process of A, B, C etc, to get to something. Many of this generation never heard the word ‘no’. When they are confronted with a problem, they often do not have the basic skills to cope.”

He believes there is a “contagion effect” in relation to suicide and that often the young do not fully realise the permanency of what they are doing.

Knows the feeling of loss

Mr Kennedy knows only too well the pain of loss - his wife Evelyn died in 1997, aged 36. She worked in Fahy Travel and left behind three children, aged 15 months, five and eight years. He says living in the moment helped him cope with his heartbreak.

“That was the big thing for me. Every time I faced something difficult I would tell myself it will pass and that I would come out the other side. I’d just say ‘Let’s get to the next bend’. By nature I would not be a positive person but I was thrown in at the deep end and had to learn to cope.”

He credits music with bringing him through the dark times. “It played a huge part in getting me though the bad times. I found songwriting to be great therapy, it was of huge benefit to me.”

Now he hopes that this vehicle of self expression will help others by offering people hope and insight and raising funds for local mental health charities.

Music is in his blood. He played in a band in England, worked as a session musician and singer here and has been writing songs since he was young. He came from a musical family, his father, a psychiatrist, played the harmonica, his mother was a “wonderful” singer and his uncle was a double bass player in a band in the 1950s.

Pieta House says Gerry Kennedy’s single not only highlights its free service it will raise much needed finance to fund it.

Its spokesperson Tom McEvoy says the charity would like to thank Gerry Kennedy for writing his latest release Don’t turn out the light in aid of Pieta House and in association with GROW.

“For Pieta House this opportunity serves two equal purposes, highlighting the services while collecting much needed funds for our free of charge service.

“Founded by Joan Freeman in 2006, our one-to-one therapeutic services are provided completely free of charge bridging a necessary gap in the existing mental health services in Ireland. Our core ethos is to provide a service that is client centred, rooted in compassion and care to those in acute distress. Our vision is to make our service available to all the people of Ireland within a 100km radius. Since Pieta House-West, Tuam opened on 3rd December 2013 it reached out to more than 170 people from Galway, Roscommon and Mayo.”

Paul Clabby of Grow, says the organisation has more than 100 free support groups nationwide. “During its over 40 year existence in Ireland thousands of our members have been supported on on their journey from mental breakdown to recovery from mental illness. Grow has six support groups in Galway county, including a young adult group in Galway city. All our groups are free and open to all.”

He says he is very grateful to Gerry Kennedy who will donate the proceeds of the song to GROW and Pieta House, whose mission is to strengthen mental health promotion and suicide prevention.

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