PI­ETA HOUSE: Pro­vid­ing An Es­sen­tial Ser­vice Na­tion­ally

Hot Press has part­nered with Lyons Tea and with the sui­cide pre­ven­tion and self-harm cri­sis char­ity Pi­eta House for the cam­paign “Now We’re Talk­ing”. Here, ahead of ‘Now We’re Talk­ing’: the Town­hall Gath­er­ing on World Men­tal Health Day, we talk to the CEO

Hot Press - - Pieta House -

Pi­eta House is there for peo­ple 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And the ser­vice pro­vided by the sui­cide and self-harm cri­sis agency is com­pletely free of charge, at the point of use. Brian Hig­gins (pic­tured above) heads the or­gan­i­sa­tion, which has 15 cen­tres through­out the coun­try, and hun­dreds of trained ther­a­pists. He wants to stress this point above ev­ery­thing else. If you are go­ing through a men­tal health cri­sis, then Pi­eta House is there for you. There are no re­stric­tions. No one will be ask­ing ‘Where’s the cash?’

That is why the sup­port of Lyons Tea, in rais­ing money for the char­ity, is so im­por­tant.

To date, Pi­eta House has helped over 40,000 peo­ple, who were in sui­ci­dal dis­tress or en­gag­ing in self-harm. But Brian is clear about one thing: the mes­sage needs to be con­stantly re­in­forced and shared. With the pres­sures, prob­lems and anx­i­eties that are such an in­eas­capable as­pect of mod­ern life, the men­tal health is­sues that lead to self-harm and sui­cide ideation are not go­ing to go away.

“When we started in 2006, it was an im­me­di­ate cri­sis re­sponse for peo­ple who were dy­ing by sui­cide,” Brian ex­plains, talk­ing about the ori­gins of Pi­eta House. “We started with a ther­apy cen­tre in Lu­can and for the first 10 years of our ex­is­tence we fo­cused on what we would call ‘in­ter­ven­tion works’ – that is, work­ing with peo­ple who are ac­tively sui­ci­dal or peo­ple who ac­tively en­gage in self-harm. But over the years we’ve tried to move fur­ther into pre­ven­tion, which means equip­ping peo­ple with some of the softer skills that help avoid the sui­ci­dal ideation hap­pen­ing in the first place. That in­volved a lot of things, such as chal­leng­ing stigma and mov­ing into a po­si­tion where we’re talk­ing about is­sues that we’re not al­ways com­fort­able talk­ing about.”

“The other im­por­tant mes­sage here is that it is, and al­ways will be, free. You’ll never have to pay a penny.”

Pi­eta House also stepped in to take on the work that Con­sole did af­ter they col­lapsed in 2016.

“Since then we’ve of­fered post-be­reave­ment care work,” Brian ex­plains. “That’s ther­apy work­ing with fam­i­lies and friends who have been be­reaved by sui­cide. We’ve grown over the 12 years, which is in­dica­tive of the need in Ire­land. And while we have 15 cen­tres na­tion­wide, a 24/7 helpline 1800-247-247 that is staffed by fully qual­i­fied coun­sel­lors and over 240 psy­chother­a­pists, we’re still only reach­ing about 60% of the pop­u­la­tion. There’s a huge piece of work to be done con­tin­u­ing to serve that 60% of the pop­u­la­tion – but also reach­ing out to the other 40% as well.”

Pi­eta House’s ser­vice is straight­for­ward and user­friendly.

“The most im­por­tant thing is that you can re­fer your­self to Pi­eta House,” Brian ac­knowl­edges. “You don’t need to go through a doc­tor, or an emer­gency room. You don’t need to go through coun­sel­lors. If you are con­cerned for some­body else, or speak­ing on be­half of some­body else, you can ring, even if it’s just for ad­vice. The other im­por­tant mes­sage here is that it is, and al­ways will be, free. You’ll never have to pay a penny.”


So how does it work in prac­tice. Brian sets things out very clearly.

º7e have our 24ÉÇ helpline that½s staffed by fully qual­i­fied coun­sel­lors,” he says. “They’ll do a very brief, very pro­fes­sional as­sess­ment on the phone to de­ter­mine, ‘Is it Pi­eta you need? How can we di­rect you to­wards the help you need?’ Even if the is­sue isn’t what Pi­eta House cov­ers, we will di­rect peo­ple to­wards the or­gan­i­sa­tions that can help them.

“They’ll ask a few ques­tions to as­cer­tain whether it’s the right ser­vice, then they’ll ask you to come in for an ini­tial as­sess­ment. The as­sess­ment nor­mally lasts an hour, with the ther­a­pist, who will ask ques­tions about how you’re feel­ing. At that point, you’ll come in to ther­apy and prob­a­bly

be with us for about 12 one-hour ses­sions.

“The process feels re­al­lly un-clin­i­cal. These cen­tres aren’t like hos­pi­tal – we try to make them com­fort­able, safe spa­ces to be. The most im­por­tant thing, again, is that there are no bar­ri­ers to com­ing in or to con­tact­ing us.”

The num­ber of peo­ple who have come into con­tact with Pi­eta ouse has in­creased year af­ter year. s that reyec­tive of a men­tal health cri­sis in Ire­land, or is it that more peo­ple open­ing up about these is­sues?

º t’s a bit of both,” rian reyects. º f you open up any news­pa­per, you’ll know that there is a cri­sis in terms of the ser­vices that we’re able to of­fer. We know that all the nec­es­sary men­tal health ser­vices are not open 24 hours a day. We know that the cur­rent re­sources in Ire­land are not ad­e­quate to the need that is there. Now, ‘not ad­e­quate’ and ‘not good’ are two to­tally dif­fer­ent things. The ser­vices are ex­cel­lent, but there aren’t enough.

“Then in terms of whether it’s in­dica­tive of peo­ple seek­ing sup­port? I think it is. Ser­vices are pres­sured be­cause more peo­ple feel com­fort­able ac­cess­ing them. That should be wel­comed. Sui­cide num­bers, thank­fully, are go­ing down – even if just marginally. So the more peo­ple ac­cess­ing ser­vices, the less peo­ple die. That’s the right for­mula, we just need to ad­e­quately sup­port that for­mula.”

Are there par­tic­u­lar pres­sures fac­ing young peo­ple, es­pe­cially in re­la­tion to so­cial me­dia, peer pres­sure, bul­ly­ing?

“About 40% of all of our clients are un­der 18,” says Brian. “When you go to un­der 25 or un­der 30, you’re into prob­a­bly over 60-70% of all the peo­ple who use our ser­vices. I ad­mire young peo­ple for the way they’ll en­gage with our ser­vices. When you lis­ten to all this crap about the ¼snowyake }en­er­a­tion’ q that young peo­ple want to be moth­ered and cud­dled – that’s non­sense.

“This is a gen­er­a­tion that has had im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tions, that has lived through na­tional dia­logues and de­bates on ma­jor is­sues such as ‘what is equal­ity?’ and ‘what are our rights?’ They have en­gaged in a way that has helped them un­der­stand oth­ers and them­selves. So they’re not weak – they may be stronger than any other pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion.

“Now, they do have ad­di­tional pres­sures in terms of so­cial me­dia and how to en­gage with it. We all do. Any­one who is on Twit­ter or In­sta­gram or Face­book has the same kind of news, and we all have pres­sures re­lated to what’s cool and how you should look and so on. But I hon­estly think young peo­ple are more in tune as to what their base­line is, and if they dip be­low, that they’re more likely to seek help. If you look at the change that we have seen in Ire­land in the last three years, and the power of young peo­ple, it’s in­cred­i­ble. What I’d like to see is that same power, and abil­ity to en­gage, be­ing used to tackle other is­sues.

“The peo­ple most likely to die by sui­cide are men be­tween the age of 35 and 55. So you have young peo­ple who do have pres­sures, but in many cases they also have bet­ter aware­ness. Whereas, there is a co­hort of 35-55 year old men – who are in that high sui­cide bracket – who aren’t re­ally on Twit­ter or Face­book. They maybe haven’t had the same en­gage­ment with these is­sues as young peo­ple. Our chal­lenge is reach­ing out to them.”


Pi­eta House fre­quently run cam­paigns that aim to reach ev­ery part of so­ci­ety, to get the widest pos­si­ble com­mu­nity of peo­ple ac­tive, and talk­ing. We all know how ef­fec­tive tea can be as a means of start­ing a con­ver­sa­tion, even the most dif­fi­cult ones. Which is why, for the past three years, Lyons have been com­mit­ted to end­ing the stigma that is too often at­tached to men­tal health is­sues in Ire­land, through their part­ner­ship with Pi­eta House.

ºThere’s a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem with iso­la­tion in ru­ral ar­eas,” rian reyect. ºWe all know what it’s like to be lonely. But to be al­most per­ma­nently lonely – which some peo­ple in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties face – is an­other is­sue. We need to let peo­ple who are iso­lated, or in­firm, know they’re not a bur­den.”

Which is one the rea­sons why World Men­tal Health Day is so im­por­tant. The aim of the Now We’re Talk­ing: The Town Hall Gath­er­ing on Oc­to­ber 10 is to make ex­actly that kind of state­ment: those with men­tal health is­sues are not a bur­den ei­ther. What mat­ters is that we can in­ter­vene ef­fec­tively, and at the right time.

“Sui­cide doesn’t care whether you’re old or young or rich or poor,” Brian adds. “It is some­thing that im­pacts on ev­ery com­mu­nity – and can im­pact on any in­di­vid­ual.”

Like all of the trained spe­cial­ists at Pi­eta House, Brian is care­ful about how he talks about sui­cide. For ex­am­ple, he doesn’t pref­ace it with the word ‘com­mit’.

“The de­fault po­si­tion for speak­ing about sui­cide has been to use the term ‘com­mit sui­cide’. There’s two rea­sons way this has been adopted in an Ir­ish con­text and why it’s a prob­lem. The first is that sui­cide was a crime un­til 1993. The sec­ond is that it was a mor­tal sin in the Catholic Church and in most other churches. This meant that when you ‘com­mit’ a crime and when you ‘com­mit’ a sin, you know that it’s ‘wrong’, but you de­lib­er­ately un­der­take the act. And that’s pre­cisely why sui­cide was so stig­ma­tised. Peo­ple didn’t want to even men­tion their loved ones dy­ing of sui­cide. It was seen as a stain on a per­son’s moral char­ac­ter. So should we be cor­rect­ing peo­ple us­ing the word ‘com­mit­ted’? Yeah, I think it’s im­por­tant.”

Chang­ing the ter­mi­nol­ogy might seem like a small thing, but it sig­nals the need for com­pas­sion, which un­der­pins Pi­eta House’s ethos. Brian stresses that deal­ing with so­cial is­sues re­lated to race, sex­u­al­ity, gen­der and re­li­gion has a role to play in mak­ing peo­ple feel ac­cepted, which then re­duces sui­ci­dal ideation and self-harm. One of the strengths of Pi­eta House is that they are un­afraid to con­front these is­sues.

As ever though, the chal­lenge is main­tain­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of Pi­eta House’s ser­vices – which al­ways re­quire fund­ing – and get­ting the mes­sage out to ev­ery­one who needs it. To do this, Pi­eta House will con­tinue to part­ner with Lyons tea and me­dia like Hot Press un­til ev­ery­one in Ire­land knows that this ser­vice is there for them, when­ever they need it.

Let’s make sure they get the help they need. Let’s keep reach­ing out. The phrase ‘Now We’re Talk­ing’ re­ally is an ap­po­site one.

“When you lis­ten to all this crap about ěJG ¤SNOVĝCLG gen­er­a­tion’ – that young peo­ple want to be moth­ered and cud­dled – that’s non­sense.”

Pi­eta House will take over packs of Lyons 80’s Orig­i­nal dur­ing the month of Oc­to­ber, to raise funds and en­cour­age peo­ple to open up and talk about their men­tal health. To con­tact Pi­eta House, call their free helpline 1800 247 247 or text HELP to 51444. You can con­tact in­di­vid­ual Pi­eta House cen­tres by go­ing to pieta­house.ie/ con­tact-us.

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