The Mullingar native at the helm of the National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP ) believes we can reduce suicide if we look out for each other.
Gerry Raleigh, who became national director of NOSP late last year, said “the answer is in community engagement. It can only be solved there”.
“People must feel confident to put a hand on the shoulder of someone in distress and ask “Can I help?’” he said at this week’s meeting of the Dublin-Mid Leinster Health Forum.
If that community support happens, he said he is confident that progress can be made in reducing the number of people who believe taking their own life is the only way of escaping the distress they see in their own situation.
He said it’s positive that suicide has become a high priority for the public, but expressed concern that it is “now viewed too readily as an option, especially for young people who don’t have the necessary coping skills and resilience”.
“They need to believe that they have options and that suicide is not an option,” he said, adding that young people need to have one safe adult they can confide in, and that person need not be a parent.
He said it is time to emphasise the importance of managing our own wellness, and that he is more concerned now about the stigma surrounding mental health than the stigma surrounding suicide.
That doesn’t mean we should no longer speak about suicide, but that it should be considered in the context of mental well being, he said.
Mr Raleigh spoke of his own youth in Mullingar, and said that at the all-boys school he attended in the town, he was prepared for life and given the skills and tools he needed to cope in life so far.
“But there’s no guarantee that will work tomorrow. I don’t know what challenges I will face,” he said, adding that men remain reluctant to ask for help.
He said it’s important that he looks after his own mental health, so that he will be able to put up his hand and ask for help if he finds himself in difficulty.
Suicide must be viewed as “a catastrophic act that leaves far more devastating consequences,” he said.
He urged parental responsibility for young people using social media and said surveys show a “frightening” number of under 18s accessing alcohol.
He said the factors which have the greatest impact on reducing suicide are managing our own mental health, and looking after each other in the community.
Mr Raleigh was warmly welcomed to his new post by the Westmeath members of the health forum, Cllrs Peter Burke, Aidan Davitt, and Michael Dollard, who said it is great to see Mr Raleigh being recognised.