Limerick’s “Going Dark”: A Night in the Life of a Limerick Treaty Suicide Prevention Volunteer

Limerick Voice Reporter, Gemma Good, spent the night as a Limerick Treaty Suicide Prevention (LTSP) volunteer, learning about the work they do, and the problems with mental health issues throughout Limerick.

Trigger Warning: Discussions of self harm and suicide.

The phrase “going dark” is used by Limerick Treaty Suicide Prevention volunteers when they come across a person in distress. The team lead will inform the rest of the crew via radio not to come close to the area, an intervention is about to take place, the last thing they want is to further spook the person.

Last year, the crew carried out 250 interventions.

This is where they find a person in distress, somebody at risk of taking their own life. They intervene, forming a triangle around the person and getting them away from the deep body of the River Shannon. They calm the individual and do what volunteer David O’Mahony described as “making them safe for now.” They then contact emergency services, family members, or have in some cases brought people home. 

The group patrol the river on a Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. They begin their patrol at 8pm and stay out for as long as necessary.

Last Wednesday, December 6, we finished at midnight, but the crew relayed stories of often staying out until the early hours of the morning. They aren’t keen on establishing a set finishing time; those wishing to complete suicide will wait until the LTSP reflective jackets have been hung up for the night.

Wind rips through the old condensed milk factory where the equipment is stored. We meet here at base at 7.30pm and gear up.

Six of us will be patrolling tonight; four on foot and two in the LTSP van. We gear up in heavy, reflective thermal jackets and a buoyance aid with a personal floatation device attached. David, our team lead, wears a radio to stay in contact with those in the van. 

Gemma Good, James, Rasto, Ron and David O’Mahony

Born and reared in Limerick, David has been involved with the organisation for nine months now. The twenty-two-year-old is training to be a paramedic. He previously studied IT, however decided that sitting in an office wasn’t for him – he wanted to be a first responder, helping those who need it. 

We start our patrol walking up the length of the river to King John’s castle. The rapport among the group is evident and we slip into easy conversation whilst casting eyes across the river. We greet passersby as we go along, a friendly gesture and a way of checking in. 

A man approaches us and shows a picture of a young woman on his phone. She is dressed to go out; her brunette hair hangs in perfect ringlets framing her face, a toothy smile beams at us through rouge glossed lips. She tried to take her own life earlier in the evening. She’s safe now, at home with her family. This is what she looks like – can we please keep an eye out? Just in case. 

“Of course, I hope she’ll be okay,” David responds. 

He tells me this happens often. People can also send on pictures through their social media channels, asking the crew to watch out for people. 

Although the days of isolating from Covid 19 are behind us, David said there is “a silent pandemic going on in Ireland at the moment.” 

“Not a lot of people are talking about the fact that mental health is gone so bad,” he said. “The government’s not talking about it, it’s a taboo subject.”

“Covid has changed the game for everything, for everyone’s mental health. Now people will tell us how a lot of their mental health problems started during covid, because of the isolation and because of the loneliness. We are here and we’re available to talk to you,” he assured people. 

We turn and make our way across Sarsfield Bridge, walking along the water to the Hunt Museum. Each location reveals a different story for the members.

Here in the shadows of the museum, David recalls a couple fighting. With the situation escalating along the riverside, they were forced to intervene. We walk the Abbey River and then make our way down to The Clayton Hotel.

Along the pier, David tells the story of one girl who was sitting with her legs dangling into the dark abyss of the Shannon. Clearly in distress, Michelle Meaney, another volunteer, intervened. She sat beside her in an attempt to talk and coax her back to safety. The girl attempted to pull Michelle into the river with her. With colleagues close by, everyone was pulled to safety, yet the story could have been a lot different.

At around 10pm, we take a short break. I am introduced to one of the founding members – Matt Collins. 

Asked why he established the association in 2018, Matt simply replies “because it was needed.” 

“We were the second highest suicide city in Europe,” he states. “I’ve seen a lot of stuff; I’ve seen a lot of people trying to die and not old people by the way all young people.” 

Matt recalled a night on patrol where he came across a sixteen-year-old boy in distress.

“I went over to him, and he jumped over the bars. I spent fifteen minutes holding his hand while and waiting for a boat. Fifteen minutes of my life, I swear to god it was like fifteen years.” 

The boy, who was crying, struggled relentlessly to get free of John’s grip. 

“Don’t let go, please hold on,” John begged him. “I couldn’t feel my own arms, but that’s the kind of stuff you do.”

John longs for a day when LTSP can patrol with a boat alongside them. If one falls in the river, it is a three-minute trip for an emergency boat to reach you. He emphasised that this isn’t fast enough. Within 48.8 seconds of submersion in the water, the blood goes to the heart to protect it rendering the rest of the body paralysed. 

“You drown inadvertently,” he explained. “If they’re [the boat] coming in three minutes, they know that somebody’s dead, they’re not going to be alive.

“That three minutes could be alleviated, and you could be there already, so I’m looking at you and I’m not looking for you.” 

Patrolling the river for five years with LTSP, and previously with Corbett Suicide Prevention Patrol, Matt knows Christmas and the new year will be a difficult time for people. 

“When the first bills come in January, February and March that’s where you see an increase. That’s life isn’t it? Life is life.”

Nearly in his seventies, Matt has had his own mental health struggles throughout his life.

“I’ve been through five years of it,” Matt states. “I know what it’s like and when I meet someone with a mental health problem, I know by talking to them where they are.”

To those thinking of volunteering with LTSP, John has this to say: “This city needs you.”

“They’re brilliant,” he said of the volunteers. “Anyone who wants to do this, they have to be really special people.”

We wrap up our break and continue the patrol. Making our way towards the castle again, a man approaches David and thanks him for his chat the past few nights. He said he is doing a lot better now but went through a rough couple of days. The man is homeless and struggles with addiction, as are many of the people LTSP speak to. David explained that the “little thank you” is what it’s all about for him. 

The group is quieter this time. There is less chat. They are tired but still vigilant. Before I even realise what is happening, another volunteer, James, is pulling up the live saving ring.

My heart and mind race.

Did somebody need to use it?

The group explain that this is common – somebody has thrown it in as a joke. Sure enough, as we continue, the next ring we find has also been thrown into the water. 

We conclude at midnight. David explains it has been a good night. The group did not have to make any interventions.

We hang up our jackets and leave the equipment ready for the next patrol. 

We walked a total of 11 kilometres, everybody can feel it in their legs. Eyes are strained and our minds tired from searching. Despite this, some of the fourty LTSP volunteers will be out on the next patrol and the one after that. 

“We’ll do it until we’re not needed anymore,” James assures. 

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this piece, you can contact Pieta House on their 24-hour helpline 1800 247 247. 

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