The easing of lockdown restrictions saw an increase in the number of people of all ages seeking counselling support from North West STOP (Start Telling Others – Prevent), according to the registered charity which works to prevent suicide.

“We are seeing a new and wider spectrum of clients as a result of Covid-19,” said Emma O’Hagan, administrator.

“We have clients expressing concern over the coronavirus lasting indefinitely; grief over not being able to see elderly parents or vulnerable loved ones; a lack of interactions between friends or work colleagues; and clients who have lost loved ones as a result of Covid-19 or through suicide.

“This has led to a much wider spectrum of age groups, and a greater variety of reasons for unease which we wouldn’t normally see at this time of year. It has caused a substantial increase in service requests for counselling,” Emma said.

“STOP Suicide was founded in 2004 by families who were bereaved by suicide in the region. It was rebranded to North West STOP in 2018, mainly due to the stigma associated with the word ‘suicide’.

Positive mental health

“We are a community voluntary body that works to prevent suicide by informing, educating and promoting positive mental health,” said Emma.

Our committee is completely voluntary and the money raised for North West STOP goes directly to paying our fully accredited counsellors.

A range of mental health services is provided for all age groups, including children and adolescents. “We provide a free counselling service to those who are in distress or feeling suicidal and those who have been bereaved by suicide,” Emma said.

“We create awareness of the problem of suicide and suicidal behaviour in the general public by holding informational talks and by communication of relevant material through the media,” she said.

Assist families

“We facilitate a bereavement support group to those who have been bereaved by suicide. Upon request, we visit families who have been affected by suicide and host a counselling group to assist families in coping with the effects of suicide,” said Emma.

While mainly servicing the north-west, the registered charity is not strict on geographical lines.

“We often help people from outside these areas but a lot of the times there are other organisations outside of our region and we assist clients in getting help through their own local organisations,” Emma said.

“We offer an alternative ‘play therapy’ service which is an appropriate service for children and adolescents or adults.

Over the years, we have worked as a crisis intervention service for a number of individuals who were in danger of taking their own lives and have had nowhere else to turn.

“The North West STOP counselling service usually gets an increased number of requests for assistance in the autumn, and in the 15 years that we have been providing support, the predominant difficulty was depression,” said Emma.

“According to the HSE [Health Service Executive] Connecting for Life report, which is subject to change, in 2019 there were 421 registered deaths by suicide. Out of this, 317 were male and 104 were female.

“Official CSO figures are currently not available for 2020. North West STOP cannot report on the exact number of suicides in the region for 2020 but, at present, 30% of our clients are male, yet alarmingly, 80% of suicides in Ireland are male.

“We are urging anyone, particularly males, to contact North West STOP if they are in need of free confidential support.

No waiting list policy

“Sharing the burden lightens the load,” said Emma. “North West STOP is a ‘low threshold’ counselling service.

“Our aim is to have our counsellor meet with any individual who is experiencing difficulty within two to three days. We operate with a strict no waiting list policy, making our service unlike any others available in the north west region,” she said.

If you are concerned about someone who may be depressed or expressing suicidal thoughts, we urge you to offer support and listen to what they have to say. Ask the questions: “Are you ok?” and “Would you like to talk about anything?” or “Do you feel like harming yourself?’

“Don’t be afraid to ask. Encourage them to look for help,” Emma said. “Please, if you do one thing today, take note of our free counselling phone number. It may save someone’s life, and you never know when you will need it. Call or text: 086-777-2009; or freephone: 1850-211-877.

“Our phone lines are busier than ever before, so if you are on hold and you would prefer a call back, just send a text with your first name to: 086-777-2009 and our counselling coordinator will contact you as quickly as possible.”