Religious Education Promotes Respect for Human Life

Religion and religious beliefs have been around for a very long time and, like it or not, will survive for a long time more. The fact that we live in a Catholic country where 84% of people proclaim to be Catholics is testament that people want to belong in some faith system. Recently our Minister for Education, Mr Rory Quinn, has said that religious teaching should not take place in classrooms and should no longer be the responsibility of schools. He says that school time should be about maths, reading and writing and that teachers should be left with the professional business of “educating” children within our schools.


Making a statement saying that knowledge about religion is irrelevant to how we educate our children is short-sighted and stunted.  To deny the next generation the opportunity of accessing knowledge and make up their own minds in an educated way is to deny the reality that we all need our spiritual life to be nurtured. Some may disagree with the teachings and stance the Catholic Church takes, demanding a more compassionate attitude to those who are excluded by church teachings. All humans have a spiritual side that they want to explore. If we decide to remove religion in its many forms from the school curriculum we are denying that we are more than just flesh and ashes. Our Minister for Education is trying to compress the human child to a physical entity to be prepared for the economic world at the expense of all the other factors that make up  a human being.  Just like the educational system is devoid of emotional intelligence, so too the effort here is to impoverish the child’s spiritual self.   Like every subject, religious teaching provides an understanding and knowledge that goes beyond that which can be learned from books. It should continue to be taught the same way as History or Geography. It has the same importance and maybe more so, as it is a subject that will arise over and over again in our lives.


Religious education promotes respect for human life and as children grow older it covers ethics, philosophy and morals. If these values are not essential and important , what are?. What would we put in place of religious teaching that would help our young people to understand what life is about and to look at how we treat our fellow human beings.  Integrity, ethics, honesty, and respect are all aspects of living and should be the basis of every learning process. They have longer lasting effects on our happiness and how we live our life than any other subject taught. Multi denominational schools teach morality instead of religion but this is just nit-picking as Catholic and Christian schools teach the same principles for how to live life in a decent and honourable way. Simple principles like humility and respect for another that are taught in religion classes, if removed, leave children with no tuition on the basics that create social conscience that all of society is urgently in need of.


Secularism, global influences and laws made by the European Union that cover human rights all impact on our educational system. 98% of schools in Ireland are termed denominational schools and are run by religious denominations. The Constitution deprives the State of full control of education but the State, as guardian of the common good as in Article 42.3.2, is required to ensure that children receive a minimum education, moral, intellectual and social as part of the State curriculum.


The current Minister for Education has questioned the time spent on the preparation of children for Sacraments. He claims that the severe decline in  literacy levels in our schools as is evidenced in the recent OECD and PISA league was as a result of religious education and the time given to it in an overloaded curriculum. Where is the evidence for this? John Bruton, former Taoiseach rejected that notion out-of-hand as only 30 minutes a day is given to Religion classes. and has not increased since the last tests took place.


Religious Education is a compulsory subject in England and schools there are required to teach programmes    that are in accordance with local and national guidelines.  So why are we trying to get rid of teaching religion?  Does the Minister want  to reverse an accepted fact that religion must have a place in our schools and if so for what reason?


70% of the worlds population follow  some kind of religion.  Beliefs in any religion  enhance and harnesses the goodness in every human person.  Religion reinforces qualities of love, friendship, care and compassion for the common good.  It keeps society stable, keeps us all in check and brings solace and comfort, as can be seen daily during sickness, deaths and times of trouble. It provides strength  during tough times, gives conviction and motivation and personal fulfilment. Reducing or abolishing the teaching of religion and taking it away from core education will have a detrimental impact on the religious education that our children need and are entitled to. It will not improve society now or in the future. People all  over the world,  whatever their religion, say that their beliefs give meaning to life and gives them a reason to carry on living.  So why would anyone in a leadership role deprive the children of the future and the adults of tomorrow of the tools to live lives that are fruitful, meaningful, happy and with a Higher Power to cling to in times of adversity.  We need to be careful of changing what works, even if it is not perfect.

The Consequences of Alcohol on Our Society

Every day we all complain about high taxes,  taxes for water and property, a  decrease in income and  poor services, especially in the Health Service, with hundreds of sick people  lying for days on trollies  in cold corridors and no beds available.  Well maybe we should all look at what we are condoning in our country and where our taxes are being spent.

Did  you know that every night 2,000 people with alcohol related problems are occupying beds in hospitals needed for sick people,  that is not of their own making.  And wait for the cost to the taxpayer, 3.7 billion euro  or   £3,318 to be paid by every taxpayer in the country to facilitate the use of much needed beds.  That’s 65 euro every single week to pay for those who use and abuse alcohol.

 Furthermore alcohol related injuries and diseases cost a further 1.2 billion euro  or 8.5% of the total health care budget. (Source) . Another statistic is that   10% of all general inpatient costs and up to 30% of emergency department costs are alcohol related.

 And then add a further  estimated cost of a further 2 billion to cover the costs of alcohol related crime, including vandalism and violence. Not to mention the human pain and destruction that alcohol leaves in its wake.  In 2013,  318,000 of the adult population  of Ireland said they or a family member had been assaulted by someone under the influence of alcohol as recorded by the Gardai.

Alcohol related disorders were the third most common reason for admission to psychiatric hospital between 1996 and 2010.  A staggering figure that eats up the budget for those who need such a facility.

So why is nobody shouting stop?

According to the Chief Medical Officer of Ireland a 30% reduction in alcohol related harm would save the taxpayer at least one billion euro every year.  Today,  figures released by the Gardai  said that 20 people were arrested every day between Dec 1st 2014 and January 4th 2015.  Even on Christmas day there were 13 people arrested and on New Years day an unacceptable 44 people were arrested by Gardai for alleged drink driving.  During that same period 17 people died, adding a  cost of 3 million euro to the state for every life lost,   not to mention the immeasurable human pain and loss to families.

A recent study done by Jean Long and Deirdre Morgan for the National Diary Survey  reported the following:

As a nation it is clear that we need to recognise, accept and tackle the negative consequences that arise from our use of alcohol.  Ireland has a complex relationship with alcohol, its use embedded in our national identity and is associated with significant cultural and religious events.

The Health Research board reported that harmful drinking is very common in  Ireland especially in both men and women under 35 years of age.  It is also considered acceptable that behaviour that large quantities are consumed in a single session. Some do not even realise the harmful effects that this type of drinking  has on their bodies.

We do not need any further studies to tell us about the consequences that alcohol  inflict on every citizen every day.   In what other area of life would the enormous and unsustainable cost to taxpayers be tolerated?  We have laws in place to be implemented, but that does not appear to happen.   At last in 2013 the Government approved an extensive package to deal with alcohol use and for the first time it will be considered a Public Health issue.  They are aiming to reduce the consumption from 11.9 litres per capita, the figure for 2010  to 9.2 litres by 2016. The National Substance Misuse Strategy identified price, availability, and marketing as the key factors that influence the supply of alcohol  and the amount and pattern of its consumption.

63.9% of males and 51.4 females were drinking alcohol before the age of 18, the legal age in Ireland for the consumption of alcohol.  25% of those started before the age of 16 and 5% before the age of 14.   All research has shown that those who start drinking at a young age are more likely to become dependent drinkers as they grow older. So why are we so accepting of these facts?

30%  of  men in the age group 18-24 and 20% of women in the same age group are most likely to experience acute consequences of drinking alcohol with males in trouble with the law for assaults and accidents.  38% saying they had overspent and the student population saying their studies and health suffered. Absenteeism was a  huge factor both for workers and for students. All of these facts are readily available so why does it continue?


One in eleven children in Ireland say parental alcohol use had a negative impact on their lives, that is 109,684 children.  16% of child abuse and neglect cases  were associated with alcohol problems in the home. 44% of callers to the Women’s Aid centre in 20 11 disclosed that children were present when the domestic violence and abuse took place.  

20% of all children’s crimes referred to the Garda Youth Division are alcohol related along with crimes committed by children drinking,  bringing the proportion of crimes up to 50%.   These are generally public order and criminal damage and to a lesser degree minor assaults and trespass. These type of crimes by children escalate at weekends, in the summer months and at times like Halloween and other festivals. So where is the supervision?

Irish women have surpassed our European counterparts in our drinking habits with 77% of Irish women compared to 68% in other European countries. In one of the many studies in recent times on suicide it was found that half of all those who take their own life had abused alcohol in the previous year with 36% of those who died having consumed alcohol at the time of their death. (Source) In 2010,  40% of all self harm cases, presenting to hospitals and which has risen to an alarming high had consumed alcohol.

So what does that say about us as a society?  Is it not time that a hard look be taken as to how this scourge can be reduced or in the case of our young people,  both boys and girls, be encouraged to abstain.  There is a life without alcohol and this is what should be promoted by parents, teachers, TV and social media. Taking a pledge at fourteen should be highlighted as a way to have a better lifestyle free from all the known problems that alcohol causes and being in full control of how you live, will have to be made a priority.

The  promotion of abstinence should begin with you, and if a parent, ensure that your children know the facts and the pitfalls of early drinking on their later life, both in their studies and in their workplace. That is our duty.

The Power of Encouragement

We live in an age of discouragement where every day we are bombarded with doom and gloom and a never ending stream of negativity.  Many people are devoid of hope in their futures and  in their lives.  The escalation of drug and alcohol misuse in men and women and its long-term effects is a cause for concern and the increase in  suicide, attempted suicide, self harm and depression is in urgent need of being addressed.  We need people who have the gift of encouragement and hope to become more active and share their gifts  with the community at large.  We all need encouragement every day to achieve goals and dreams. When the magical words of encouragement  are  given at the right time it  can make the difference between “keep on going, or giving up” .  You will never know how important the impact  you make on people by simply taking the time to acknowledge and encourage the challenges they are facing in their lives.

How discouragement affects us

Most adults have experienced many discouraging acts throughout their lives like, threatening, yelling, interrogating, criticizing,  punishing  and the complete lack of respect and dignity.     All these acts have a damaging and long-term effect on the perpetrator and the victim alike. Sometimes we need to encourage ourselves and often when we need it most  we fail to rise to the occasion,  that is when encouragement from God and from others is important.  Encouragement and hope are closely  related.   When we lose hope in something,  encouragement  from another renew our hope and lets us know that there is a better day on the way.  We never want to feel alone, but that tends to be what we do when we become discouraged, we retreat into ourselves.


What is encouragement ?

Encouragement means to inspire with hope, courage and confidence. We tend to get depressed when we become anxious and worried about something but if we have someone that comforts us with encouraging words our hearts and our spirits can be lifted. Encouragement is the positive feedback that focuses on effort and improvement rather than outcomes. It is recognising, accepting and giving appreciation and thanks and can be given anytime no matter what the eventual outcome. The pendulum syndrome where you appreciate another and in turn they affirm you and your contribution to their advancement,  is a mutual way  in  which people  learn to trust and confide.

Encouragement and words of appreciation make every life better, happier and more fulfilling. Individuals can be transformed when they receive words of encouragement and especially if it is froma person that cares and  shows  a genuine interest in their wellbeing. We can all think of people who gave us encouragement as we have gone through  life – parents, siblings, friends, teachers, bosses, sometimes strangers.   They encouraged us to keep the chin up when otherwise we might have given up. We get support when we think we are alone and without hope.  By listening,  by  acknowledging  and  validating  who they are and what they do is very important to someone struggling to achieve their goals.  Every person craves for this type of affirmation and acknowledgement and even a simple “well done” allows others to know that you appreciate what they are doing and it is meaningful to you.

What can you do?

Encouragement helps people to become more tolerant of life’s struggles and challenges. It fosters choices and also a belief in the contribution that is being made. It adds positive meaning to their lives. We can encourage people by  being  personally  involved with them if they want to talk,  all you need to do is sit and listen. People who are supported and encouraged do not fear making mistakes and are free of the implications of success or failure,  they  look at their experiences as an opportunity for development. When you bring hope and encouragement into the life of another human being and  you  bring a sense of admiration, courage, strength, wisdom,  honesty, and kindness and spend time acknowledging these traits,  which is sometimes needed to boost another, then you are in a position to change how people think, act and manage their  futures. Never under-estimate the positive or even negative change you can deliver to another with words, thoughts and deeds of encouragement.  The hope you have within yourself is a gift that can be transferred to another, especially when that person is at a low ebb in their  life.  If you haven’t got hope yourself you cannot give encouragement to another.    We are the conduit that The Lord uses to interact with people.  He uses us to help and care for the needs of others,  including their emotional and psychological wellbeing.

Teachers are central to children’s lives as they grow and the approach they take to children can make all the difference. .  Mutual respect and dignity develops and enhances a sense of belonging and encourages effort and improvement rather than seeking perfect results.

Some people are gifted by having an encouraging personality, and it is seen as a spiritual gift for those needing a morale booster and a lifting of the spirit.  It motivates people and gives them the “push” that is sometimes  needed  into compassionate ways of doing something positive for themselves.  Responsibility to use this gift must always take  into  account  the  possibility of  being hasty with advice and change.  We can be responsible for encouraging people to  make  changes  in their lives that may have long-term implications and questionable results.  People who have this gift are drawn to those  in  need  and  even when its confrontational, people go away feeling better and in control.  People who are sad, lonely or just needing help are all attracted to people who have the gift of encouragement, who bring hope,  security  and  encouragement to the one who receives such praise and recognition.


Hope in God is that anchor that holds us together in the storms of life.  Ask for encouragement,  it is after all the gift of giving to another what you may have within yourself and  have  been blessed to be the receiver of such a positive aspect of life.  It is for you to give to all individuals seeking a better and a happier life.  We need to be always encouraged when going through a hard time. We should always be a source of encouragement for that reason. Jesus said “do unto others as you would like done to you”. We all need hope and encouragement at every phase of our life and it is vitally  important to know that you have someone at your side when all hope disappears and you feel alone and discouraged.  Always remembering  that  being present and a source of encouragement to those who cross our path in life  is the most important gift you can share, and in return it is encouraging to be able to help another human being in the process.

“Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and the thinkers,  surround yourself with those who see greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself”

A Different View of Christmas

In 2012 the last year that figures were  produced by the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme,  Americans spent 563 billion dollars in the run up to Christmas. Great for the economy,  or is it?  Or does it add further private debt to the millions who overspend and go into debt for what we think Christmas should be about. If we could only think differently  the Global water crisis could be wiped out with a contribution of  just 5% or 20 billion dollars of that enormous spend. We would make Christmas happen every day for those impoverished by the lack of water in the world,  just by  that reduction which would not be felt by the consumers.  Why is that not done for the betterment of humanity?

The advertising that generally starts at the end of October by all the big stores convincing people that they must buy the latest gadget for Christmas is where all the panic buying starts.  So much stuff is bought that is wasted or easily broken,  gifts  received that are not wanted,  useful or even liked and that are all driven by consumerism that add to the mad buying spree that is the “Christmas shopping”.  The added burden and cost of getting rid of the packaging that swell our recycling efforts is often mindboggling.  When you think that 75 million euro worth of wrapping paper alone that has to be disposed of immediately Christmas Day is over makes you wonder. Along with all the other junk that ends up broken or cannot be put together in the first instance, has the time not come to change?

On top of all of that,  the overstretched credit cards, loans from Credit Unions, Banks, moneylenders, etc. which bring added stresses to so many people,  would it not be a lot wiser if people spent Christmas as it was meant to be, with family,  friends and neighbours or visit the sick, alone or lonely?  With all the shopping for food, drink, the added wants, and in trying to get everything done I wonder is it worth all the stress in a household. Statistics show that domestic violence escalates at Christmas time.  This is unnecessary stress that need not be endured if we thought about Christmas differently and get rid of the juggling act,  to try and stay calm in the light of such needless added burdens.

Every year we are herded into this frenzy of buying, we think that that is what is expected.  If everyone just stopped and looked at the real meaning of Christmas, Christmastime could become enjoyable, relaxed and stress free to enjoy with family and friends.  Is all this stress which for some is  overpowering really necessary or could we make a decision to act in a different way and become more aware of what really matters when the vast majority are on holidays and have time to spend with loved ones.  I know the economy is dependent on people spending, the more the merrier, but how do you square that  with finances which are scarce and precarious for many and often borrowed at great expense.  The added stress of facing into January to repay borrowed money which will again cause anxiety, stress and worry is surely not to be promoted especially when it is for no good reason.  Overspending is a feature of Christmas and should be actively discouraged.

I am not against Christmas and people enjoying that extra nice dinner, a more expensive bottle of wine, buying something that will be enjoyed and be grateful for, or buying something special that has a meaning, what I am against is the spend, spend, spend that leave so much misery in its wake.   What about bringing back the magic of  Christmas  with  songs and carols  and music to lift the spirit and that will resonate in the brain and bring immense pleasure?   What about upping the sense of community spirit?  What about allowing people to feel your care and concern?  What about calling or inviting your neighbour for a chat or for a cuppa? What about adapting a sense of warmth and inclusion to someone who is alone? What about renewing an old friendship that has gone cold?  All of these mean much more than a gift which has little use or is even wanted when the pay back has to be found.  

It is up to all of us to restore the true meaning of Christmas and take the pressure and stress out of a season of goodwill and make it meaningful and memorable.  We could all celebrate the precious people in our lives at this special time that comes just once every year and  enjoy the season of memories and family and those whose paths we cross.  How do we know if we will be around to celebrate another.  We don’t.  What if the United States did give the 5% that could be easily  saved to allow every human access to clean water and eliminate typhoid and all the other diseases associated with lack of clean water, wouldn’t that be a great miracle to happen at Christmas.

Shame of the Suicide Inquest

More than one person dies by suicide every day in this country. This means that every day some family faces the indescribable pain and anguish that such a death imposes on parents, siblings and friends, as well as the community at large. After the funeral is over, life moves on for some. For those most closely involved, the silence falls and the family are left to pick up the pieces. Many families are surprised when after six weeks or more a member of the Garda Síochána calls to the family home to inform them of the date of the inquest on their beloved family member. This inquest usually takes place in the local Courthouse or sometimes in a hotel room, neither of which are conducive to comfort and privacy. This is the start of yet another painful and intrusive journey into their grief and pain. Does it need to be this way? I do not think so. I think this approach adds a touch of criminality and stigma to a terrible tragedy and it important now to look at how it could be changed.


An inquest is a public inquiry into death. It is held to establish the identity of the deceased and the date, place and circumstances surrounding their death, including a medical cause of death. It is overseen by a Coroner (who acts as a judge) with the assistance of a jury of 10-12 people. The inquest will not tell you why a person died by suicide, but is a requirement of law to establish the facts. Similar to what happens in many courtrooms, there are a large number of people involved – uniformed Gardaí, the State pathologist, newspaper or other media reporters, witnesses who are called to give evidence under oath, other people who may have given a statement, not to mention the next of kin (if they decide to attend), friends and the general public. Evidence is given and generally, at the discretion of the Coroner, any suicide notes or relevant letters are read. In the presence of such a diverse group, an inquest can be a distressing and humiliating situation, adding to the terrible burden of anxiety, trauma and pain already being experienced by the family involved.


Suicide was rightly decriminalised in July 1993, some 20 years ago now. Families of those who die by suicide do not have lobby groups to highlight their plight into their very public pain while attending an inquest. They have already been thrust into an unknown situation when a sudden death arrives at their door. Families feel isolated and the shock and horror of being in a court of law escalates their excruciating pain and gives the impression of a criminal act. They should be able to expect some compassion as to how such a painful and public appearance is looked at by the authorities. I believe this could be all so different and so easily changed if the will to do so was there. There are no legal barriers to change, only the lack of human compassion and understanding.


There is a general lack of knowledge about the Coroner’s Service in the public domain. This is one of the oldest public services in existence. It has evolved over time to a position of importance in today’s society. It covers all sudden and questionable deaths and under law must be carried out before a death certificate is issued. The Act under which the Coroner’s Service currently functions was passed in 1962. It operates as an independent judicial office to establish the ‘who, when, where and how’ of unexplained deaths. It is not permitted to consider civil or criminal liability – it is there just to establish the facts. The system has not changed for 50 years, even though suicide was decriminalised in 1993. Yet the upward trend in suicide rates continues annually. For those who have already endured unimaginable grief and loss, it may be their first time to encounter such a system. For them, it is a system where empathy, compassion and love is forgotten and public intrusion into private grief is unaccounted for.


Things could be different. A working group on the Review of the Coroner’s Service published its report in 2000, making more than 100 recommendations to improve the system. The review stated that ‘rules should be established by statutory regulation and be capable of being amended’. It also stated that ‘changes in the work and practice of the Coroner are inevitable as the complexity and demands of modern society increase’. These statements give a mandate to those in charge to change the system. There is no need for the present inquest system to remain as it is and I believe it is imperative that it is changed to take cognisance of the deep suffering of those using its services.


One Coroner has shown how change can be made. John Lacey, Coroner for Navan, Co. Meath, has, with the help of concerned people, changed the structure of how he addresses inquests for the bereaved families of those whose loved ones have died by suicide. He holds the inquest in an annexe of Navan Hospital, in a place that is unlikely to be ever visited again by relatives and out of public view. It is humanised by the presence of a group of trained bereavement personnel, who provide refreshments and comfort for those attending. They explain in a gentle way the process and how it operates, to lessen the impact when the inquest begins and to make people aware of services that may help in their grief. Together with the Coroner, they encourage the family to ask questions if they so desire. The Gardaí sit with the family also and offer words of comfort and carry out their duty as gently as possible. There is no need for Gardaí to be in uniform and by eliminating these visual and upsetting modes of dress, a more humane and understanding environment exists. Sometimes statements by witnesses are being read and heard by the family perhaps for the first time. Their sensitivity to such painful statements should be respected. In this setting, the public are discouraged from attending the inquest.


Surely the dignity and the feelings of those involved could be better cared for in such sad circumstances and the Navan model should at least be taken on board by County Councils, who pay for this service, across the country. This would be a positive step to ensure the changes necessary for dignity and consolation to be afforded to those affected. There are premises in every area that could be used to give families the privacy where they can grieve with those close to them at such a challenging and frightening time. All we need is for the people in charge to have the courage to make the change.


While penning this article, I spoke with the father of two children, one daughter and her teenage brother, who died by suicide in the recent past and asked him about how the inquest system felt for him. The inquests were held in a hotel, which he felt was very public, ‘with people laughing and drinking which was upsetting and not suitable’, but he felt it ‘was better than in the Courthouse, with the people who would be circulating there’. I asked him where might be a good place, as he lives in a rural parish, and he felt that the Parochial House or someplace where public access was limited would give more privacy and support. He said he was scared on both occasions going into the inquest, walking into the unknown, and did not know what questions he would be asked or the outcome. The tragedies, even though a few years apart, were reported on the front page of the local newspaper, which of course added to his pain and grief. He felt angry at such a huge and unnecessary intrusion on the rest of his family and felt it was tempting fate at a time when everyone was vulnerable and finding life hard to cope with. It was all horrendous, with feelings of shame, guilt, disbelief and nightmare for his other children and his wife. Only his faith has kept him going.


This man’s story highlights the need for change, when so little could make such a huge difference. The stigma and myths around suicide can never really be changed until society begins to shift and alter its perception at a social level. We must never accept that a death by suicide has any criminality reflected in our attitudes and practices.

The Scourge and Reality of a Gambling Addiction

The negative consequences of problem/compulsive gamblers have been widely reported in research findings. The research, from across the world, shows that people who live with a compulsive gambler are at huge risk of mental illness and addictive disorders, violence, insults, embarrassment, and being demeaned in front of children and others. They also live under the cloud of second or third mortgages, illegal loans, formal loans, loss of rent or mortgage funds, which can result in homelessness and eviction. One interesting study done by Lorenz and Shuttlesworth reported that request for assistance at domestic violence shelters on the Mississippi Gulf Coast increased from 100% to 300% following the introduction of casino gambling. Escalation of domestic violence is associated with gambling addiction in many studies carried out across the world. New legislation. New legislation governing gambling is being enacted in Ireland and this legislation is going to allow for on-line gambling and casinos. Up until now casinos were illegal except for ones in private clubs, but because of a loophole in our laws casinos were operating in many places for a considerable time. The irony of this new Bill is that it is going to “include a fund to help treat people with gambling problems and will provide robust safeguards for young people and problem gamblers”. Does this type of thinking remind us of other faux pas of the recent past? And how will these laws be implemented? The very fact that the Government recognises the dangers and the destruction of people who are compulsive gamblers by including this aspect into legislation begs many serious questions of who is demanding such a change in our laws? Who will benefit? Not families and loved ones of those afflicted for sure. Research and data widely available should be noted by our law makers and taken on board when making decisions that will have far reaching consequences for society. No matter how much revenue is collected it will not cover the cost of the problems created and the human misery caused. Escalation of gambling Gambling figures in Ireland have soared to alarming rates. Online betting is the main cause for this massive increase. People with addictions and gambling problems can now sit at their computer and gamble in the privacy of their own home. Tabor Lodge, the largest treatment centre in the south of Ireland has reported a 50% increase in men between the ages of 18 and 35 who sought help over the past two years for their gambling problems. Tabor Lodge also report that 75% of those who gamble on line are problem gamblers compared with 20% of those who frequent casinos or betting shops. Gambling is a serious addiction with long-term consequences for the gambler and the family that surrounds him/her. It is called the “silent addiction” as there is no outward visible signs except a change in personality traits – but these can be profound. Compulsive gamblers are at high risk of suicide and many end their lives because of the shame and the sense of hopelessness that surrounds their problem. So how will the new laws control this scourge that is infiltrating homes across the country now? On-line gambling and a designated number of casinos (40 to be exact and a designated size of 15 tables each) are going to be legalised and therefore acceptable to society. Some people have a “flutter” on the Grand National or some well advertised race once or twice a year, some people play bingo cards for the social aspect. Scratch cards have become a serious problem for many people, especially those on Social Welfare, hoping to increase their income. Some bet on any sport, be it dogs, horses, games, poker, sport results or the myriad of other betting opportunities provided by the eventual recipient of your hard earned cash. For a long number of years we knew that slot machines had an addictive element to them where young people and housewives became addicted to them. They are readily assessable to the young and are the starting point for getting the “buzz” of the odd win. Gambling is a legal way of extorting money from vulnerable clients who have no comeback. Once addiction sets in, the control needed is taken away from the gambler with soul destroying consequences. Upset lives. Of course in recent years we have all become aware of the mega wealthy, who paid the “experts” multi millions to guide them to the best site to make exorbitant profits. They gambled on stocks, shares, property, etc. and we the taxpayers had to pick up the tab so that they could be refunded their capital from our exchequer after deceiving those in charge of the full extent of their gambling. Where were our leaders and watchdogs when all of this gambling or so called “investing” was taking place in our country ?. How could we have been left exposed to the 64 billion euro of gambling debts that our citizens must now pay, for something to which we did not subscribe. We will pay for these gambling debts for a very long time, as will our children and grandchildren. The ordinary gambler is never that lucky. If he/she loses, they lose, full stop. Problem or compulsive gambling interferes with work, finances, relationships and leads to financial ruin for many. It also encourages acts that a person would not normally do like stealing, embezzlement, fraud, being deceitful and manipulative and families have been left without homes, farms, businesses and unimaginable debt. Emotional dysfunction, child abuse and neglect, chaos, violence, domestic abuse, financial instability, friendship/family loss, divorce, separation, depressive and anxiety disorders, misuse of alcohol/drugs and psychological damage are too high a price to pay at this juncture in our country. And to think that we are going to legalise this scourge is an unimaginable madness. Understanding. Gambling addiction, also known as compulsive gambling is an impulse control disorder. There are three phases in gambling, the winning phase, the losing phase and the desperation stage, all three with devastating emotional problems. Gamblers cannot control their gambling habit even when they know it is leading them into trouble and hurting both their families and themselves in the process. Gambling will be uppermost in their thoughts no matter what the consequences. Compulsive gamblers keep on gambling whether they are flush or broke, whether they are happy or depressed and even when they know the odds are stacked against them. Gamblers always minimise their problem and only tell when they have won. They cover up when they have lost and keep silent about their deep distress when that happens. Gamblers are always waiting for the big win and never admit to their losses because they feel others will not understand. If gambling disrupts your life and if you spend more and more time and money on it, especially chasing losses, you have a gambling problem. Unpleasant feelings such as stress, depression, loneliness, fear, anxiety, stressful workplaces, fractious relationships, or seeking company can all trigger compulsive gambling habits and set people on a path of going to the races, the casino, bingo, slot machines and betting offices, etc. which all appear to be a fun way of putting down time socializing with people with similar problems to alleviate these feelings. Quitting For many people quitting only comes when their backs are to the wall with finances, either their own or from those they have borrowed, or from monies got illegally and coming to the notice of the law or family members. It is only when every last penny is spent and there is no alternative that people look for help and admit to their compulsion. Red alert is when you are getting more and more frustrated to regain your losses. When you have to revert to spending the household money, borrow from friends, spending to the upper limit on the credit card, sell valuables or beg, borrow, or steal you are a gambling addict. When all these sources of money dry up or fail to materialise and gambling becomes a vicious circle, you need help from professionals to deal with the problem. Gamblers are slow to listen to advice and to the people who carry the worry of debts and borrowings – that’s if they are even aware of them in the beginning. Overcoming a gambling addiction is not easy but like all addictions recovery is possible if you seek and get the necessary support. Every gambler is unique and needs a specific programme tailored to their needs. The first step is to admit you have a problem. It takes a quantum leap of courage and strength to own up to this, especially if your losses are of big and you must face the consequences. How many have gambled away farms, businesses and inheritances – some not even coming to light until death arrives. Suicides are a big risk factor among gamblers, as the statistics show. When the truth must be faced despair and hopelessness sets in and destroys not only the life of the gambler but also the family. Researchers Lesieur and Custer estimated that for every gambler there are 10 to 15 persons whose lives are adversely impacted on by gamblers activities and 87% of problem gamblers threatened and were abusive and controlling of family members. Support groups Gamblers Anonymous was set up in the 1960’s as a recovery programme similar to Alcoholics Anonymous and when Freud wrote about the effects of gambling it signalled widespread recognition of its ill effects on society. Other programmes include the Four Step Programme and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which are also used in the treatment of gamblers for their addiction. The general ideals are to change thoughts, beliefs, to re-label, re-attribute, refocus, revalue and find other pleasurable ways to spend time restructuring a life that has been taken over by the hope of winning and the disgust of losing. Many people quit gambling more easily than other addictions but it is staying in recovery and making a permanent commitment that is the challenge. We are subjected to so many visual programmes on TV encouraging people to partake that it is difficult to avoid the craving. Help for victim and family Surround yourself with people to whom you are accountable, ( wife, partner, boss, or good friends), avoid tempting environments, hand over control of your finances and find other activities you enjoy to replace gambling. Distract yourself by watching a film, go walking or divert your thoughts to doing some chore until the thoughts pass. Call a trusted friend or family member or go to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting if things get too overwhelming. Give yourself a reality check regularly and remember the pain and despair you suffered when you were losing with no chance of getting your money back. Learn from your mistakes and don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip but gather your friends around you for moral support. When faced with the consequences of compulsive gambling, a gambler can suffer a crushing blow to their self worth and self esteem. This is one of the reasons there is a high rate of suicides among gamblers. When the future appears hopeless and ridden with debt these thoughts of ending life to get rid of the pain are often overpowering and any talk or comments should be taken seriously. Depression and gambling addiction often go hand in hand and anxiety brings on cravings for gambling to release the tension. Gambling affects every member of a household, from the bad mood swings to short tempers, to even rage or silence when the gambler is losing so it is important for another adult to take control and try and understand. Don’t preach or lose control of your own feelings or issue ultimatums that you will not carry out. Always include the gambler in family occasions, functions and activities remembering that the problems will not stop when the gambling does. Never bail out the gambler, cover up, or deny the existence of the problems to yourself, the family or others. Do not blame other family members for the gamblers problems. When the gambler uses pleading, manipulation or even threats, have a strategy to deal with it. Set the boundaries and stick to them. It does take time and practice to learn how to respond to these requests to ensure you are not enabling the problem gambler. Keep your own dignity intact. Seek out the support of others who understand or attend Self help groups for spouses and family. The collateral effects of compulsive/pathological gambling should be examined and scrutinized more closely by all elected members of Dail Eireann and should be a top priority before blindly extending any further facilities for such a damaging force to become legalised for our most vulnerable citizens. “Gambling is the son of avarice and the father of despair” French Proverb.

Self Belief is the Road to Success

The person in life that you will always be with the most is yourself. Even when you are with others you are still with yourself  too.   Waking, sleeping, walking down the street in the sunshine with your loved one or with friends, you are still with yourself.


Self belief is what we think about ourselves. It is about how much we respect ourselves.  It is always about knowing what we deserve.   It is about the dreams that we choose and hope to make happen and it is that hunger to chase our dream that determines our success or our failure as we go through life.  It is the belief in our own ability  that  determines  being  a winner or a loser.  Positive belief can make you an achiever. Negative beliefs can make you a loser.  If you firmly believe that you are a capable person and you deserve success, then nothing in the world will stop you from achieving success.  The  stronger  the belief  the better your chances.


Positive self beliefs are always surrounded by thoughts of “I’m clever, I can achieve, I’m in control, I’m attractive, I am an interesting person” instead of believing negative things like “I’m stupid,  I’m boring, I can’t do it, I can’t remember, I feel ugly, I feel nasty, I’m a dumb brain”. Negative thoughts make you feel worthless, incompetent, shamed and unable to take positive compliments.  Whereas people with high self belief accept themselves as they are and continually have a positive picture of themselves.   A combination of self confidence and self belief empowers a person to achieve greater things in life.  Positive beliefs keep a person calm in times of great sorrow, while negative beliefs can make a person depressed even in times of great happiness.


You must form a positive belief in order to achieve in any walk of life.  The first step to success is to think about yourself and that “you can do it”.  Once the fire to chase your dream is quenched, it is all over.  Most people quit when they lose all hope of winning,  but if you can hold on to the belief that you can win, then you would get the courage to do incredible things to achieve your goal.


Self belief is a vital component of a productive,  positive  life.    Other people are not smarter than you, whatever you were led to believe. Rather than focussing on inadequacies always try to maximise your strengths and minimise your weaknesses.   When you take action it helps to restore your faith in your ability to achieve and, when you do achieve, it spurs you on to do better things and inspires motivation, optimism and enthusiasm. Everyone experiences failure but by scolding yourself and hugging failure to your heart  not letting it go, you store up negative feelings that are non productive. Always look for a  positive side to the problem. Very few problems can’t be turned around to better the situation, even if it is acceptance.  Put aside what other people think about you, success is available to everyone if your belief is strong enough.


You can learn self belief. We were all born into this world with no sense of what we can or can’t do.  Life is the teacher of limitations.  When we start to walk we fall and get up,  only to fall again, get up again, stumble, eventually walking. You haven’t listened to the voice of pessimism so your inner voice has not learned to give up.  Generally, one way or another all children have a tough time adjusting in childhood.  I do not know many who haven’t.  It is important to acknowledge where negative feelings and thoughts have come from, but it is up to you to restore and re-instate your self- belief in yourself.   It is important as you grow older to be able to leave the past traumas and challenges behind and reach for goals that are your dreams.  If you believe you can get to that point, you will.  It is as we grow older we collect all the baggage and continually re-run it in our minds. The voices of parents, siblings, school teachers and the local bully that instil negative inner voices did not start with you. They may appear to, but they are words or deeds that have impinged negatively on your thought process. When you notice doubts or negativity entering your thoughts take time to sit down and examine your strengths and believe that all people have weaknesses. Convince yourself that you are in control, act calmly, decisively and strongly.


Do not be afraid of challenge.  Self belief is not being arrogant or blind to your failures or shortcomings but being able to admit that you have faults and failings and recognising and quantifying them.  Accept them and believe in the freedom of being able to make mistakes and cope with them.  The more your self- belief grows, the more other people trust you and believe in your ability to get there.   Surround yourself with like- minded people that support and encourage you. Stay away from negativity and people who erode your self esteem.  When we focus on what we can’t do then we miss the power of positive thinking of what we can do.  Stubbornness used well is called single minded determination. That is what  we all need to develop and nurture.

Society at large and the media continually “sell” the perfect person.  What does it mean to be perfect?  Every person is perfect in the eyes of the Almighty who made them in His image and likeness.  False expectations need to be toned down and acceptance promoted so that people can truly achieve the unachievable.  We all need to be true to ourselves and who you can be, so that eventually your belief in yourself will bring happiness, respect, and truth to your life.    When you massage the mind with positive  ideas,  that will determine how you act and the outcome.  When you keep thinking you can do something, you will at least try and as  such  more  likely to succeed.   No matter what anyone else tells you about how great you are, unless you believe in yourself it will not have any effect.  

What you believe yourself, is what you present to others.  When you believe and have faith in yourself, life changes and the magic so often dreamed about comes true every time.  Self esteem is greatly influenced by words spoken and actions seen by children.  New research shows that it is more important for children to be actively involved and fully participating in effort as much as winning. Always remember every word spoken to a child has an effect for the future.  If those words are negative they leave detrimental effects, or if positive which allows a child to gain confidence in themselves and what they do.  Wouldn’t it be the greatest gift that a child could be given to start out in life, the knowledge and the confidence to know that “they can do”.

Recognising the Long Term Effects of Emotional Abuse

Recognising the Long term effects of emotional abuse i

We constantly hear about the trauma inflicted on victims of  physical and sexual abuse, but emotional abuse is far more widespread, insidious  and have devastating and long term negative effects which victims of other forms of abuse have  said  effected them more  in the long-term.   Emotional abuse stems from an imbalance of power,  across  all social classes,  have equality of  perpetrators by male and female and all age groups.  It is widespread in the home, in schools, in the workplace and in relationships.   All  forms  of  abuse  contain  an element of emotional distress, which never goes away, gets worse over time as it erodes a person’s self esteem, confidence and trust in their own judgement.   If dependent  leaves them at the mercy of relying on the very person abusing them.  This is especially the case with children or in domestic abusive relationships,  where  one  person may have  all the power and control and there is no way out.

How is emotional abuse defined?

Emotional abuse is a form of abuse where the perpetrator uses fear,   humiliation  or verbal assault to undermine the self esteem and confidence of their victim.  No abuse whether it be neglect, physical, sexual or financial happens without psychological consequences.   Emotional bullying is something everyone remembers from childhood, inflicted on  them  in the playground,  by  teachers, parents, siblings, partners, workmates and friends.  They remember forever the mocking, humiliation, and the sarcasm inflicted on them. Many think that if they are  not  being  physically  attacked  that they are not being abused, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Emotional abuse is a hideous  and  bewildering  form  of  control  that damages and denies a person the right to value themselves and their feelings.

Constant emotional abuse may not appear to be severe or dramatic, but  its long term  effects  can be a serious threat to mental and physical  health.  Emotional abuse is the most common form of abuse, yet is least spoken about.   Unlike physical or sexual abuse emotional abuse is generally made up of a series of incidents,  patterns  and  behaviours that occur over time.   Where males may use physical intimidation, aggression or violence through words or deeds to abuse and control their victim, women are more likely to use emotional abuse to gain control and power.  Emotional abuse has many faces and many of its components  can  be recognized  from  the  following  behaviours :

 Making impossible demands and requiring constant attention while at the same time being  critical  of  every action being carried out.  Being aggressive by calling derogatory names, constantly accusing, blaming, threatening, or giving orders, “the  I  know best syndrome”.  Deliberately starting arguments  (while treating you well in front  of  others  but then changes when you are alone)   and making the victim walk on eggshells all the time:  refusing to acknowledge a person’s value, worth or presence and making you feel inferior and devaluing your thoughts and feelings:   denying personal needs, be it financial, emotional or otherwise when the need is greatest, causing hurt or punishment by their actions:  using the silent treatment: only allowing their own point of view to be heard:    degrading,   name  calling, mocking, teasing in an ugly way, insulting and ridiculing: cursing and swearing and belittling an individual, these   all diminish a person’s self esteem and cut to the very core of the victim leaving long-term hurt and confusion.

Another very prevalent form of emotional abuse is isolating the individual from family and friends, restricting freedom or having normal contact with friends.   Using guilt or fear to get what they want and   inducing   intense fear by threats and coercion:

convincing a person to accept or engage in illegal activities.  Using or minimizing a person  for  advantage or profit.  Throwing   tantrums  and  getting  upset and swearing and shouting in a situation that would not warrant such a reply.

Long-term effects.

In long term emotionally  abusive situations, be they adults or children, the victim’s inability to make decisions  or trust someone often leave the victim feel they are under e control of the abuser and believe the utterances or accusations being made.  Deep seated anger is one of the predictors for this type of behaviour in diminishing an individual’s  sense  of self and their dignity.  All forms of continuous emotional abuse leads to depression,  emotional instability, sleep disturbance, suicidal thoughts, and or attempted suicide, feeling trapped or alone, and leads to misuse of drugs and alcohol and unhealthy relationships.

Many men, women and children must deal with emotional abuse on a regular basis, whether in marriage, relationships, workplace, school or in the home.  When someone you  know  or  love gives you an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach  and you are emotionally gutted by their language or  actions,  it is time to take the first step to stop behaviour that is damaging  both to one’s  mental and physical health.  Recognising that you are being controlled or dominated by language or deed must set alarm bells to challenge  and  learn how to handle and stop such abuse.  Every  person  is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.  When a person demands that such actions  stop  start by either looking the abuser straight in the eye, or challenging their behaviour in a calm and assertive manner.   You are then on the road to taking control of your life and stopping the detrimental damage being caused to you when you recognize that your life is being affected.

  Abuse,  be it  emotional,  sexual, or physical is not about you,  it’s about the perpetrator.  Abusers  will  not  stop of their own accord and may have learned it by example and  think it is acceptable to treat others in a way that damages emotional health,  leaving victims embarrassed, ashamed,  fearful, and leave emotional distress that have detrimental long term effects.   Children or adults who live under the constant barrage of hurts,  insults,  belittling or demeaning,  having no say or  control over their lives suffer the loss of the freedom to think or act as they so wish and  end up being unable to cope with the inner pain and turn to self harm or other numbing ways to deal with their life.  They live lives of constant anxiety, uncertainty, are  unable  to accept compliments,   have feelings of betrayal,  of being useless and unable to make decisions about even the smallest thing.  They are emotionally bruised, and feel they have no contribution to make to themselves or others.  “ Man’s  inhumanity to man, makes countless thousands mourn” sums up having to share a life with someone who  constantly inflict emotional and mental abuse on another.     The perpetrator   may  have  feelings themselves of utter uselessness and hopelessness  and have low self opinions of themselves and do not realize the trauma they are inflicting.   Abusive  people  need  help  to  develop  a correcting of their actions and to recognise that abusing another human being,   brings them also into an unhappy place,  where guilt, self hate and anger rule their own life.


Remember you are not alone if you suffer verbal or emotional abuse.   There are countless thousands of households and vulnerable people who have this type of abuse perpetrated on them every day.    By talking  and confiding in  someone  you  trust  you can reclaim your life.   Repairing your life is not an easy journey but without healing your life will remain static and your dreams for a  future  free  from  emotional  pain will need a transformation of  your own  outlook on life.  The long-term cumulative effect of living with emotional abuse will only recede with the help, love and compassion of family and friends.   There are many organisations who offer help in this situation or counselling could be the first step to stop the destruction of lives blighted by this insidious abuse.

The Flickering Candle of Self Harm

A wounded heart often leads to a wounded body, and the power of emotional disturbance from constant pressures in life has  highlighted  this  problem  that is more often than not, secretive,  unreported and little known about in general.  Self  harm,  or self destruction can take a number of forms and a broad range of different behaviours  that display  the lack of coping skills and  a

deep emotional distress that is out of control. The Royal College of Psychiatrists  defines  self harm as an “intentional act of self poisoning or self injury irrespective of the motivation or degree of suicidal intent”.  Deliberate self harm is one of the strongest predictors of suicide and those who self harm  increases the likelihood of ending their life by their own hand by between 50 and 100 fold above the rest of the population,  over a twelve month period.  Even though people who self harm live to tell the tale, there is much confusion among researchers and the medical profession as to the diverse guises and the rainbow of issues that incorporate the destruction of self harm.

Consultant Psychiatrist at Cork University, Dr. Eugene Cassidy states that the need has never been greater to develop a response to patients who engage in self harm.  According to the National Registry of Self Harm there was an increase of 96% in the rates of self harm presenting at emergency departments among men between 2007 and 2010 and 35% increase  in  women  presenting  in  Cork alone. A notable increase has been observed since the economic downturn with a 20%  increase  in male self harm.   Disquieting figures  show that for self harm there was a 23%  increase in the figures shown for South Tipperary and 117% increase in Cork.  

It is interesting to note that  in Limerick City,  an area long associated with high levels of self harm,  a significant decrease has been noted since the initiative  between  the  National Suicide Research Foundation and the Suicide Prevention Office in Limerick .  They have  put in place a multi-level programme which consists of workshops for depression and suicidal behaviour.  Included in the programme are GP’s, social workers, counsellors, gardai, teachers, priests and the media, coinciding  with a public awareness campaign on depression and suicidal behaviour intervention  with people who engage in self harm.   If this has worked in Limerick should it not be replicated  and  promoted across the country?

The  most recent figures show that 12,000 patients presented  at emergency departments  in 2011. “This is a significant problem”, Dr. Cassidy has said,  “and  as self  harm is  the single biggest risk factor for future completion of suicide,  is an alarming figure”  According to statistics from the Registry of presenting patients at emergency departments, 17%  who  were  waiting   for  a doctor or a psychiatrist left  the emergency department without  getting appropriate treatment.  The risk of repeated self harm is much higher in those who leave without being assessed so this should be an area for immediate consideration and concern.  Dr. Cassidy   advises   that  patients  who  are obviously in emotional and physical pain should not be left  sit for long periods without been seen urgently,  as that escalates the feelings of being unsupported and a burden on the system.   

Robust data  gathered  shows that in the period between 2003 and 2009  that  71,119 people presented with self harm  at  hospital emergency departments throughout Ireland.   A  revealing study done on attitudes of medical personnel state  that doctors and nurses sometimes see people who self harm as time wasters and lack understanding in respect of self harm  and feel it is associated with mental illness.   88.4% had stated they heard negative comments towards people who present with self harm.   Not an ideal attitude to handle such sensitive issues. Dr. Cassidy also said “ that staff were not trained in the understanding of  this  escalating  health  problem”.  This is now being addressed in Cork University Hospital, where the data on Suicide  in Ireland is collated and stored.  

Unanswered research questions abound and studies are relatively  new,  but anecdotal evidence that those who present at emergency departments are only a small fraction of the overall numbers who self harm.  Most people self harm in private and it has a huge impact on their day to day living and the difficult task of keeping it a secret adds further pressure to an individual.  The burden of secrecy and trying to hide their scars and bruises is hard to carry  and when people do not confide,  even to family  members,  and  it  only  comes  to  light when somebody notices a damaged body or strange behaviours,  the shame and stigma adds to further pain.  It can affect everything from what they  wear,( like  covering arms etc.)  what sports they play,  to  damaging  close relationships with others and has a huge and destructive impact on life.  Young people self harm to cope with their problems and feelings and find it a way of dealing with intense emotional pain.  That soon creates even bigger and more serious problems because it can set up an addictive pattern of behaviour from which it is difficult to break free.

What is self harm?

Self destructive behaviour is a widely used term that conceptualises certain kinds of disturbing  behaviour and self inflicted harm,  that a person  cause  to  themselves.  Self harm is identified as behaviour that includes the following;    when somebody intentionally hurts their own body, attempts of suicide by hanging or strangulation, cutting with blades, glass, knives, scissors etc., burning with cigarettes or others, hitting and mutilating body parts, such as punching, scratching the skin until it bleeds,  causing sores and scarring,  inhaling or sniffing harmful products, hurt their bodies internally by inserting objects,  pulling out hair and eyelashes, scalding the skin, excessive piercing , swallowing things not edible, or inflicting diverse  injuries on themselves.   Banging your head or fists off a wall, off the ground, hitting the body with a stone or a brick or putting your head through a glass door is always the sign of out of control frustration and deep emotional pain.  Drug misuse, drinking chemicals, driving dangerously, and risk  taking  are  also  considered self destructive actions. The most common method used by both males and females who presented at Hospital Emergency was drug overdose  of  tranquillisers, paracetamol  and antidepressants products.  Self cutting was the second most common method of self harm and more associated with males.    

A wide range of psychiatric problems such as borderline personality disorder,  depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, drug and alcohol misuse and other addictions are all associated with self harm.  Low self esteem, anxiety, impulsivity, difficulties at home, school, work, fractious relationships with friends or partners, guilt, poor academic performance, being bullied or the fear of bullying, and the incidence of child abuse, physical or sexual are all factors in self harm.

Young people in their teens, for females between the ages of 15 and 19 and males between the ages of 20 to 24 are more at risk of self harming than the rest of the population and should get help as they are also at a higher risk of suicide.  A survey of young people carried our anonymously, estimated that 10% of girls and 3% of boys in the   age group 15—16  self harmed in the previous year.  They report that they use multiple methods and multiple body locations.  Adolescents and young people who carry out self harm need urgent attention and should be seen by medical personnel.   Anger, which they turn in on themselves and contributes to self harm must be addressed  and  the  feelings  of  self hatred and hurting your body in punishment, are all issues that need urgent diagnosis.   An important aspect of self  harm  is the inability to handle feelings of not being loved, being frustrated, and the ultimate shame and guilt associated with self harm.  Self harm is associated with an individual that do not want to confront  painful  issues and are generally afflicted with depression or deep emotional pain.  Addictions are also an added factor in self harm.

High risk  groups

Rates of self harm are high amongst the prison population as well  as  the homeless, minority groups and those suffering from disadvantage.  Respect, dignity and compassion  and  an understanding of this predicament appears to be lacking in their treatment according to data and research.  In St. Patrick’s Institution where young men are detained, the risk of self harm and para-suicide in the first four days of their incarceration   has been noted by Amnesty International and other concerned groups. In the United Kingdom studies carried out estimate that in the year following self harm the risk of suicide is 30—50 times higher than in the general population,  so an understanding of the deep rooted causes of self harm is paramount for those who care for these groups in our country..

We all have the capacity to self destruct with negative personality traits and can cause oneself irreparable harm or damage either deliberately or inadvertently.  It is the part of the emotional  self  that may have suffered unbearable damage in childhood and remembering is just too painful.  Researchers have found that separation from parents, rejection, disappointments, traumas like abuse, rape,  bereavement, being bullied,  serious illness, disability, or being discriminated against  are all associated causes and damage a person psychologically, which may be associated with self harm at a later stage in life.   People find it difficult  to  understand the  implications that accompany the results of self harm.  It is vitally important to have the person who self harm  speak to someone who can listen and understand their predicament and respond in a caring and non-judgemental way.   A person cannot be isolated from the culmination of frightening emotions that they release by self harm.  Without the help of another person in whom they trust and can share their innermost thoughts and bring life back into control again  it can have devastating consequences.  Many people focus too much on the outer symptoms, which of course are important and need attention, but not enough on the inner  emotions  and  pain  that  is  being  endured  and  difficult  to understand.   Children who  grow  up  experiencing  very  little  unconditional love, respect and affirmation  resulting in  feelings  of emptiness, being unlovable and worthless carry emotional scars that are difficult to heal.  These are all catalysts for human misery and for destructive behaviours in the future to ease their inner pain.

Ways of offering a helping hand.

 Self harm is an isolated and secretive behaviour, whether we discuss it or not  it exists. By ignoring it ,  it compounds and reinforces the shame surrounding the behaviour.  So there are ways to help and bring calm to a person who are in the throes of self harm.  For example:

You can create change by talking in a loving non-judgemental manner.

Retrace the steps leading up to self harm. What events, feelings or upset led up to it.

Offer to seek help, find it and offer to accompany the person there.

Acknowledge how frightening it must be.

Keep negative comments to yourself and convey your respect  but do not intrude.

Don’t be afraid to approach the subject. The individual may be glad to talk.

Encourage them to take a bath or a shower. Give them a cuddly toy to hold.

Massage the hands, neck and feet.       Listen to calming music.

Educate  yourself  on the diverse aspects of self harm, do away with myths and assumptions.

For those who self harm

Speaking to someone about self harm may be hard but extremely important and to be able to trust in those you confide in,  is  essential.  Counsellors, psychologists or psychiatrists that could  help  work  through  the  reasons  for  your  self -harm or an alternative  strategy for alleviating the pain you feel inside.   Someone that makes you feel comfortable  (that might take several people and time)  and that you trust, or confiding in a family member, who may be worried about you already, are all people who can help through difficult times.  A strategy that is also helpful is to write down your thoughts and if possible try and make sense of what you are doing and look at other ways to alleviate your suffering, like exercise, music, singing,  running, jogging,  cycling, playing games or going to a Church to pray or sit in silence.    It is also important that you take care of your wounds and if more serious  go to an emergency department in a hospital where medical care is at hand. Either ways, you are not alone and recovery is possible for everyone.  There are many help lines with a listening ear including the Samaritans,  Childline,  Aware, Console,  etc.   

It is of the utmost importance that you get help as  the  consequences  may be the ending a very precious life because you did not reach out to those you love and care  about.   The candle which is flickering is synonymous with  how  your life is,  if it is not assisted  it will burn out.      

“Have you ever lived my life, have you ever spent one minute in my shoes?  If you haven’t then tell me why you judge me like you do”   (Anonymous)

What We Know about Suicide

Suicide is the formal term for taking one’s own life.  People have died by suicide for centuries and it is not a new phenomenon. People of all ages, races and backgrounds can, and do, end their own lives.  According to the experts all suicides are attempted or completed by persons who feel totally trapped by life circumstances and can see no way out.  And, if it follows an argument or a failed exam or the break-up of a relationship or other, they say this is NOT the cause of suicide.  The causes of suicide are deep rooted and can be the result of weeks, months or even years of personal struggle where the person sees no other way to escape from their pain.  The experts also say that the ending of one’s life happens when the pain exceeds the resources of coping skills. Those who didn’t complete the act have said they did not want to die, just to be relieved of the pain they suffer.

How suicide is viewed differs among societies and changes over time.  To the ancient Egyptians, suicide was not a violation of either spiritual or legal code.  Suicide was seen as a way to die if one was faced with un-endurable suffering of physical or emotional pain.  After all, martyrdom was acceptable when faced with civil or religious persecution.   Socrates, the Greek philosopher, debated suicide over four hundred years before the birth of Christ.  Sigmund  Freud  introduced  the world to the concept of psychosis and suggested mental disorders were medical conditions which paved the way for shifting attitudes about suicide in modern society.    Shakespeare had many notable characters  who died by their own hand which helped penetrate the cloud of stigma by reminding people that suicide is a part of life.

Change in attitude

It was 1983 before the Catholic Church reversed Canon law that prohibited proper funeral rites and burials in the Church and  the cemeteries  for those who died by their own hand.  It was 1993 before the Irish State decriminalized suicide.  To this day at an inquest, a Coroner, jury, the gardai and the press are present,  and the witnesses must take the Oath for the hearing in a courthouse of how someone who has died by suicide, suggesting that it still has  criminal connotations,  thereby forcing grieving families and friends who have suffered the loss of a loved one to suffer further pain.   This is not a society showing empathy and understanding.   Maybe it is now time for us to move away  from this form of inquest,  if only to get our Institutional Practices to keep pace with essential law changes.

Suicide is a complex and poorly understood problem but despair is one of the main ingredients in the sulphurous cocktail that leads to this event. Widely different reasons have been advanced to explain the high frequency of suicide but it is more correct to say that it does not depend on any one particular cause,  but rather a range of factors which include attitudes in society,  economic situations, the feverish pursuit of what we call happiness, intellectual overwork, the influence of heredity, the results of drug or  alcohol abuse, the loss of the spiritual self,  such as the de-Christianization of a country, mental illness or depression or a temporary mental confusion that may have played a part in that decision. Some of those with expertise in suicide believe that people who end their lives by their own hand are not totally in their right mind and don’t fully grasp the seriousness of their decision and the impact on those left behind. Suicide is now understood to be less about dying, than just wanting to end the overwhelming pain to which there “seems” to be no end.  Only the Almighty knows what is in the heart of  those who die and only He can judge.  We need to feel a deep compassion, free of judgement for those who die by their own hand.

Recent studies

Before I touch on the aftermath of  suicide on those left behind to suffer the most un-imaginable pain I want to look at recent studies by scientists and what they have said.  In 2004 a senior United States government scientist concluded that most anti-depressants are too dangerous to give to young people because they increase the risk of suicide,  but his superiors  in the FDA (Food and Drug Authority) disagreed with his findings and the recommendations were withheld as a secret, according to the New York Times.  In fact a new analysis revealed that antidepressants have been found to even be more likely to cause suicidal behaviour than was originally thought. The British Government has banned all antidepressants except Prozac for young people.  Many studies have shown that depression is a major factor in suicide, so are we looking at what medication is being prescribed by our medics to individuals who present with problems of stress and  mood swings?   It is an interesting point that must be scrutinised  more  seriously  and  also other forms of medication that escalate low feelings of the spirit and depress the mental system.   However, due to the complexity and multifaceted aspects that make up the human condition, it is important that we don’t focus on just one factor when examining the phenomenon of suicide.

Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy, whatever the age.  Feeling  suicidal,  or  thoughts of self harm, arise from a rainbow of stresses, emotional reasons, drug and alcohol abuse, or mental illness  in its many forms.  Everyone at some stage in their life have feelings of “what’s the point, I’m useless, can’t cope, I don’t want to hang around anymore, I just want to die.” But  these  thoughts pass over for most and people recognise that these negative feelings are temporary even if they are painful, and can be changed by more positive thinking.  Even when small things are missing from someone’s life it is common to have negative feelings.  When chemical imbalances, feelings of self esteem and control of life deteriorate –  and when someone experiences extreme hopelessness and helplessness and they believe  that no one can help them, even though these may not be valid reasons but the person believes that to be so, – then the prospect of dying becomes a reality.

The aftermath of suicide

For those left behind to pick up the pieces life will have changed forever.  The level of pain, confusion and devastation left behind is beyond description, beyond imagination.   A loss by suicide increases hugely the emotional intensity and pain felt. Personal values and beliefs are shattered and the individual, be it father, mother, brother, sister or wider family members,  are  changed emotionally forever.  Being angry with God and with the person dead is all normal and a necessary part of the grieving process.  For family members asking questions of “how could he/she have done this to us, they had so much to live for and they were loved so much”  or “if only”  or all the other unanswerable questions, the  realization that there may not be any answers is a grief and a numbness that no human should be asked to bear.

The resurgence of horrific feelings day after day while trying to make sense of their loss is heart-wrenching, the pain that envelops deep down in the very soul is excruciating,  and  the loss of appetite, sleep disturbance and being devoid of  energy are an added burden to bear.  Family members also experience other complicated grief in reaction to their loss and that can include an intense emotion,  a longing for the deceased, extreme feelings of isolation,  emptiness, guilt, anger at your loved one for leaving such a legacy of grief,  and for missing clues about suicide intentions.  The despair which highlights sadness, loneliness, helplessness, nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty in concentrating, social withdrawal, loss of interest in your work or play is further highlighted if you witnessed or discovered the suicide.  Although these feelings and physical manifestations sound extreme they are normal responses to a traumatic life event.  However, never is suicide so devastating as when such pain is added to,  from  the cruelty and indifference of others.


Bullying in all its forms and now the new phenomena of cyber bullying both in the workplace and in schools is a new challenge for those in charge of these institutions, and the permanent damage done to the esteem of a person is often the trigger for ending life,  and needs to be monitored a lot more carefully and heed taken when it is complained about.  A study released on the 24/10/2012 by the American  Academy  of  Paediatrics  at a New Orleans Conference has found a clear association between cyber-bullying and suicide.  Data presented from 41 suicide cases identified by the researchers,  found  that  78%  of young people had been victims of bullying at school or on line.  Face to face bullying was also a major factor.  They also reported that 32% of adolescents who end their  own  life  were reported to have a mood disorder while 15% experienced depression.

Depression, which has  increased  significantly,   is one of the main factors presenting before attempting to end life and effects individuals of every race colour, creed, gender and age.  The liberal society of the availability of alcohol, drugs misuse, sex, the high incidence of broken relationships, loss of faith, bodily image,  and in trying to establish their own identity,-  which may be fragile and threatened by fears of rejection and failure- , all lead to negative feelings which threatens the mental health of individuals.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people in Ireland and has the 5th highest incident rate in the European Union at 15.7 per 100,000 people between the ages of 16 to 34 , and  are notably male and accounted for 40% of all suicides in 2003.     Up to 50% are associated with alcohol and drugs misuse and those who self harm are 100 times more likely to complete suicide.   As it takes two years to compile the statistics about suicide, the records are often questionable according to the statisticians,  and  they say we do not know the  exact  number who end their life  by their own hand.  Some are recorded as car accidents etc.   Rural areas have a higher incident rate and since the downturn in the economy many with financial problems have become part of the statistics.

Trying to cope in the aftermath is a real challenge and should not be borne alone. Keeping in touch with loved ones,  friends and the religious  for comfort and understanding and staying close to those who will listen when you need to re-run the event and those who offer a shoulder to cry on or indeed listen in silence,  should be sought out and their friendship and help used. Grieving in the way only you want to, and at a  time  of  your choosing, is an option that must be accommodated.   Healing will only take place at its own pace, some days down the road will be better than others, and  may  take years  for many.  Burdening yourself or laying fault for being tearful, sad,  mournful,  feeling guilty or postponing family traditions that are too painful,  are all part of the anguish  people suffer.  There are many voluntary groups where people who have endured or experienced  the trauma that others now suffer and are ready to help and walk the lonely road that is the aftermath of suicide  These are often places of refuge and should be used.

So what exactly do we know about suicide?  We can look at facts and figures, make assumptions,  read  the endless volumes of research,  but at the end of the day the taking of a life by  one’s own hand is a final solution to a temporary problem.  The exasperation and destruction  of  paralysed lives  left behind to ponder and endure the incomprehensible,  is a tragedy of immense pain.  No amount of empathy could allow you to walk in the shoes of those bereaved, or even imagine the intensity of the pain.   We can only be there to sit and listen or be silent, to help those bereaved to carry the burden.   Only those who endured the dark clouds before they exited life, and those whose souls are engulfed in pain and left behind  to suffer in  Hope,  that the Almighty who oversees the bigger picture will be there  to  open the doors for those He asks to bear such crosses in life.

Duty of care

While we have a duty of care for those among us who are grieving a death by suicide, this author refuses to believe that we, as a society, cannot replicate for suicide in Ireland what has been achieved when road safety was taken into the hearts  of  communities  in halving the total deaths on our roads in the past ten years.  Now that our elected leaders have themselves experienced  the  sad  and  tragic loss of a member of  the  Oireachtas  to suicide, maybe they will take a courageous step  and stop diverting  funds that were ring-fenced to employ mental health staff,  that would boost suicide prevention, to balance other over runs in the health service, to the detriment of society at large.  Of the 35 million euro  that was to be invested in employing staff, which included people specializing in suicide, only 17 out of the 414 who were to be employed have been given positions in the HSE  in 2012.  These figures speak for themselves.  The Minister responsible, Kathleen Lynch has promised to make changes and to implement the promised staff in 2013.  We live in Hope.

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted” Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount.