Members of a Limerick City suicide patrol unit are bracing themselves for a busy Christmas.
With the latest figures showing that the city has the highest suicide rate in the country, the statistics come as no surprise to the newly reformed Limerick Suicide Watch Patrol team.
“2016 has been as busy as ever for us,” explains Vice-Chairman Mike O’Mara. “We’re coming into our busiest time of year at Christmas. It hasn’t gotten any better out there to be honest with you.
“We’ve had them from as young at 13,” said Mr O’Mara, who added that the patrol team has dealt with people up to the age of 85.
“Last Christmas we had eight interventions in twelve nights. The previous year we had 16 in twelve nights. One New Year’s Eve, we had five interventions alone.”
“We are on the front line. We work hand-in-hand with Limerick Marine Search and Rescue (LMSR) and Limerick Fire and Rescue service, explained Mr O’Mara.
“The lads in LMSR told us their lives have been a lot quieter since we started.”
To tackle the suicide epidemic in Limerick, Mr O’Mara said there needs to be a 27/4 drop in centre in place and urged that “the council and the health board need to supply something.”
“It’s very frustrating for us, we could spend two hours with someone on the bridge and get them taken away. They might be sent to the crisis nurse in A&E but, unfortunately, once they discharge them, they might not have a follow-up for six to eight weeks.”
“We could meet them a couple of nights later in the same position they had been in, when we first had taken them off the bridge.”
He said that is ‘soul destroying’ for the patrol team. “That is where the system is failing us,” said O’Mara, “and failing the people that need the help.”
Provisional figures for 2013-2015 from the National Office for Suicide Prevention show that the suicide rate in Limerick City is more than twice the national average.
This is reflected in the fact that the MyMind Centre for Mental Wellbeing in Limerick saw a 50 percent increase in service use from its opening in April 2014 to the end of 2015.
My Mind provides counselling and psychotherapy sessions to people with mild to moderate mental health issues within 72 hours of initial contact, with no GP referral required.
Over nine months of service in 2014, 808 appointments were carried out. In 2015, this increased to 1241.
MyMind charges for their sessions based on a client’s employment status, as part of their self-sustainable business model. They offer a reduced rate for those retired, in part-time jobs, unemployed and to students.
Limerick Centre Manager Michelle O’Connor said: “We believe that early intervention prevents more severe or crisis issues from developing.”
In contrast, those who seek counselling services through their GP wait up to five months for an appointment with the National Counselling Service provided by the HSE.
There are currently 37 people on the waiting list in Limerick to avail of the service, which is free to medical card holders. More than 500 people have availed of the service in the last three years.