Tuesday 23 January 2018

Help is only a call away

Denis O'Connor Console Wexford
Denis O'Connor Console Wexford

There is no grief like the grief caused by suicide which leaves the person's bereaved family and friends struggling to explain why someone decided to end their own life.

'That is why the grief is so complicated, so difficult and so prolonged and there is no pathway to it. You could be having an okay day and a few minutes later you literally fall asunder,' said Denis O'Connor, manager of Console in Wexford which offers support and counselling to people bereaved by suicide and to those who are suicidal.

'People's lives get turned upside down. They can experience every emotion under the sun, in any one day, in any one hour - sadness, anger, grief, guilt, loss. Everyone grieves differently. Your grief is as individual as your fingerprints.

'Some people think they're going mad. We help them to realise it's a normal reaction to what they have been through.'

It's not just family members who come to the Console Centre in Francis Street. It is estimated that up to 50 people will be affected by the suicide of one individual, including friends, work colleagues and sporting associates and all of them are welcome at Console which has five fully trained and accredited counsellors and four therapy rooms.

An average of 18 people take their own lives in County Wexford every year, with a consequent emotional impact on up to 1,000 people. If the person is well-known, the ripple effect can extend even further.

'Some people might just need practical information and guidance and others need counselling and therapeutic support and that is provided free of charge for as long as they need it,' said Denis.

In the six years since Console was established in Wexford, the centre has helped 'a significant number' of people.

'As a matter of policy, we never give out the numbers of people availing of the service. It has to do with confidentiality,' said Denis.

'Generally, people receive an hour's counselling once a week. They receive that for as long as needed. They can stay here for as long as they like,' he added.

When people have completed their therapy, they are invited to attend a support group, facilitated by two trained counsellors, which meets once a week for about six weeks in a large therapy room upstairs.

'If they wish they can meet other families who are on a similar journey and the members of that group then become a support for each other outside of the centre.'

Children who have been bereaved by the suicide of a family member are encouraged to express their grief through art with the help of a psychotherapist who is also an art therapist.

'The child will draw a picture and the therapist might ask why they picked a dark colour. The child could say because I'm sad and that opens up a conversation about why they are sad. The child may say, because daddy is in heaven.

'Everything we do here is very professional because the people who have been bereaved deserve it. It's all geared to the best outcome for the client,' said Denis.

'There are a lot of people out there suffering the loss of a loved one. We would like them to know that there is no need to suffer in silence. There is help. People who come through this door have been through hell.

'Quite a number of people get through without any help but for those who feel they need help it's only a phone call away.'

Console in Wexford is partially funded by the HSE which provides 30% of the running costs with the rest coming from donations and fundraising contributions. 'The HSE gets a bad name but I have to say that we feel very supported by them, particularly the Regional Suicide Resource Office in Waterford - they give us funding, advice and practical help', said Denis.

'The generosity of the people of the South East since we started, has been phenomenal. We have never lacked money,' he said, indicating a cheque on his desk from a man who lost his son through suicide.

'We have never been left short of money since we came into Wexford and it costs quite a lot to keep our bills paid and this premises open.'

The Console 24-hour helpline number 1800247247 is manned by a trained therapist who will direct callers to local services.

A new outreach Bereavement Liaison Service is now in operation with Denis, who is also a trained counsellor, visiting bereaved families at home on request, in the immediate aftermath of a death or at any subsequent time, to give advice and support. The request can come from the family, a garda, coroner or funeral director.

Wexford woman Orla Roche and her family were instrumental in bringing Console to Wexford and in raising funds to renovate the former St. Vincent de Paul hostel for homeless women in Francis Street, following the death by suicide in 2006 of her brother Paul who was 33 years old. The Console 24-hour helpline number is 1800247247.

The office in Francis Street can be contacted on 053 9122787.

interview by maria pepper

Wexford People

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