The Irish and Suicide

Joan Freeman, Pieta House Founder. (Photo: Oisin McHugh)

By Ray Cavanaugh, Contributor
August / September 2017

According to a 2017 report by UNICEF, Ireland has the fourth highest rate of teen suicide of E.U. or O.E.C.D. nations. Furthermore, Ireland has Europe’s highest rate of suicide among girls.

“While the overall number of people dying by suicide has declined,” James Doorley, National Youth Council of Ireland deputy director, notes, “there has been an increase among young men. And, of particular concern is the fact that the suicide rate for young people aged 15-19 here in Ireland is the fourth highest in the E.U.”

In recent years, suicide has also been a serious problem among Irish immigrants in the U.S., particularly in New York.

Fortunately, there are people working to address this issue. Venues that offer counseling geared towards New York Irish immigrants include the Emerald Isle Immigration Center and the Aisling Irish Community Center.

Additionally, the suicide and self-harm prevention organization Pieta House arrived in New York in 2015, following a decade-long tenure in Ireland, where it still operates.

In the experience of Pieta House founder Joan Freeman, common reasons for suicidal ideation include: immediate family deaths in Ireland and an inability to travel home for funerals; alcohol and drug dependency; feelings of disconnect from home; and an inability to move forward professionally, especially among undocumented clients.

Freeman considers immigration status a “contributing factor” to suicidal ideation “but not necessarily the root.” She adds, “Our clients enjoy their lives in the U.S. having built roots here over a period of time. However, the ongoing longing to visit home to see their family and friends can be strenuous, in most cases, creating feelings of isolation, loneliness and a sense of being trapped. They can also feel very professionally restricted, being tied down to ‘off the books’ jobs, unable to return to education and prohibited from building credit. There is also the ongoing fear of becoming ill – and facing huge medical bills should this happen.”

Freeman says, “Immigration status has always [been] and will always be a trigger that contributes to longstanding mental health issues. As a result of this trapped feeling, panic attacks, anxiety and depression can arise, thus, leading to suicidal ideation or self-harm.”

Pieta House NYC is located within the New York Irish Center in Long Island City, Queens. ♦

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