Featured | Cork Samaritans

By: Cork Samaritans  05/12/2011

Posted on Sep 10, 2010

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. PIO FENTON, director, Cork Samaritans, focuses on the challenges facing ‘Breakfast Roll Man’ as he suffers during the downturn and explains how a new campaign will encourage men to reach out for a helping hand.

“FIGURES released last week have indicated that suicide is an increasing problem, with a 25% increase in the number of people who died by suicide in 2009.”A superficial analysis would indicate that the bulk of this increase is due to the recession and the seemingly unending economic problems this country is facing.

“I think though, that there is merit in taking a different look at these figures and maybe even to step back from the figures and to look at the underlying problems in society which maybe lead to people to suicide.

“When we start talking about figures we mask the human tragedy behind each of these deaths. In Cork, 93 people took their own life in 2009. That figure does not begin to summarise the broken lives, hopes and dreams behind it.

“When we hear about these tragic situations we often hear people asking “What happened?” or “Was there something going on in their life?” These questions are as understandable as they are unanswerable. We can never really know what was going on in someone’s head during the dark moments that led them to making such a decision. We can never answer these questions.

“But let’s think about the things we can do. We are known as a nation which has a gift for the gab. We can talk about all sorts of things, at length and with great passion. It is a national pastime. However, we are sadly inadequate when it comes to talking about our feelings.

“Moreover, men are particularly bad at talking about what is going on for them. Simply, this is the undeniable truth behind those atrocious figures.

“80% of suicides in this country are by men. Women are much more capable at getting things off their chests. They are all the better for it. I would argue that it is the nature of mankind to find within themselves a means to survive and adapt to problems.

“When times became challenging we found a way of dealing with things. Somewhere along the line though, that survival mechanism has become distorted. For all our talk, we no longer know how to talk about the things that matter.

“We have all heard of ‘Breakfast Roll Man’ who thrived during the Celtic Tiger. Unfortunately, ‘Breakfast Roll Man’ is an example of just one type of person who is suffering during this downturn.

“What we can do though for the men in our lives or as men ourselves is to embrace the notion that talking about what is going on for you – your feelings – is what can make the difference to how you cope with those feelings.

“Though a cliché it is true that ‘a problem shared is a problem halved.’ When we talk about the problems we have, they often become more tangible. We often hear people saying that they are fit to burst maybe with worry, fear or anxiety.

“Talking about this is like a safety valve – it can make what is in your head more manageable. Talking about life and what is happening for you allows you to leave off steam.

“We men need to begin to realise that this is not a sign of weakness.

“Another complicating factor is that sometimes we may not have someone to talk to. This has nothing to do with how many people are in your life or how many people love you.

“It might just be because your problem has taken on a life of its own and is clouding you from seeing that there possibly are people in your life who want to be there for you.

“When you feel that there is no one in your life that you can let off steam to, that you can confide in, that you can share your troubles with then there are other options.

“Samaritans is one of those. You do not have to be at the bottom of the barrel.

“Many of the people who contact us are not suicidal and just need to connect with someone, often just for a few moments.

“This week Samaritans are launching a new campaign aimed at men.

“We are hoping that through our campaign men will realise that there is no shame in occasionally needing a helping hand or an outlet. It really does make a difference.

“The simplest thing that I have learned as a Samaritan volunteer, while supporting people in crisis, is that talking about your problems can change how you are feeling or at least get the clarity to cope better with your feelings.

“We can all fight the battle against suicide by taking this on board and really encouraging those around us that we are there for them, that we won’t judge and that we will just allow them to feel what they are feeling.

“Let us see beyond the frightening figures and start looking at the small steps we can take to overcome this problem.

Posted on Mar 3, 2010

The Samaritans on Coach Street re-opened this week after being hit by extensive flood damage last November.

I’VE been a volunteer with the Samaritans for about six years now. In that time, I’ve begun to understand that there is no depth to the strength of the human spirit. People have endured the ‘unendurable,’ have borne the ‘unbearable’ and have overcome the ‘insurmountable.’

I know too that from time to time we all need a helping hand. It is the belief of Samaritans that often the best way in which you can help someone is the simple act of listening to someone.

It, perhaps, sounds simple. In ways it is simple. Why then do we have a problem in this country which has led to the deaths of so many people over the years through suicide?

We are a nation of talkers – we take great pride in that. We have become so consumed about talking that we have forgotten to listen.

The statistics on suicide are available to anyone who wants to know. They are stark and frightening. Sometimes I think we hide behind the statistics and forget that when we are talking about suicide we are talking about something that is all too real for many families.

It is an issue which has affected everyone in this country on some level. As a society, we know that talking about problems helps. We forget sometimes though that for every talker there needs to be a listener. These two things go hand-in-hand. What then does it mean to really listen?

Listening is a very active process. It requires concentration. It wears you out. It means being able to put aside your own prejudices and emotions and concentrate on those of the person who needs a listening ear.

When that person is experiencing feelings which are particularly distressing and burdening, it is all the harder to listen.

It means not telling someone what to do. It means never saying ‘snap out of it’ or ‘pull yourself together.’ It means never telling someone that they could be worse off and to not remind them of how good you think their life is.

It means being able to do everything you can to help someone carry their troubles.

That’s the real power of listening – it’s not a magic wand which will fix all your problems. It will, however, make those problems somewhat easier to carry. Your problems and worries are still your own but when you really have had the opportunity to be listened to they can be easier to bear.

This is the fundamental belief of an organisation that has been operating for 55 years in the UK and here in Ireland.

In Cork, Samaritans have been operating for 38 years. In that time, thousands of volunteers have helped provide that service taking more than a million calls. We do it because we know that for some, this is their only outlet. This is their only way of getting things off their chest – of unburdening themselves.

Sure, Samaritans don’t have a monopoly on listening ability. There are people all over the country, in every home and community who are natural-born listeners. We all know them – these are the people we turn to when times are tough for us. Unfortunately, as a society though I think we are still uncomfortable talking about our feelings. When we ask someone ‘how are you?’ do we really want to hear the full answer behind the usual ‘I’m grand!’

We are always going to be dealing with the issue of suicide. We might deal with it better if we learn how to listen more effectively.

Someone asked me recently if I had unlimited resources how would I change the world. For me, to change this situation means we need to start showing our children how important it is to talk about their problems and particularly their feelings. The rest of us need to start talking about our feelings too. Above all, though, we need to start listening when people start talking. This costs nothing but time.

We need to hear someone out and not rush to judgement. We need to start letting people know that it is ok to sometimes not feel happy. We need to help people find their own solutions rather than simply telling them what they should do.

We need to stop putting pressure on people to be happy. We need to allow people sometimes to be miserable.

We need to have confidence that talking about distressing feelings, and being listened to, can alleviate those feelings. We need to recognise that sometimes we are ‘them’ and they are ‘us.’

Sadly, even when we do all this, people may end up still taking their own lives. The causes of suicide are very complex and sometimes it takes more than just talking and being listened to. For the most part, however, listening works.

Our branch in Coach Street suffered the consequences of the recent flood. We are now back to normal and people can call in if they would like to talk about how they are feeling. We are glad to offer this service.

We would be happier if there were no need for the service. To achieve that however, as a society we need to start listening to one another more and to become a little more comfortable talking about our feelings. Remember that the next time you ask someone how they are.

Enquiries about volunteering, should be directed to (021) 4271323

Posted on Mar 1, 2010

Director Pio Fenton said; “It was very distressing for us to have to close up shop, but we had put a great amount of work into getting our service back. This was the first time we were without a service since we opened in 1972.”

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