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Don't be afraid to ask for help, urges MLA on anniversary of sister's suicide

By Donna Deeney

Published 27/09/2016

Mark Durkan with his late sister Gabrielle
Mark Durkan with his late sister Gabrielle

Five years after he lost his sister and best friend to suicide, Assembly member Mark H Durkan has spoken of his personal loss, urging anyone feeling like taking their own life: "Speak, don't suffer."

Gabrielle Durkan - known as Gay to everyone who loved her - was just 28 when she died.

Ms Durkan was well-established in the career she adored - nursing in Altnagelvin Hospital - and had a wide circle of friends who thought the world of her.

Not least among them was her only brother, Mark, who shared her sense of humour and love of practical jokes.

To mark the fifth anniversary of her death, Mr Durkan appealed on social media to anyone who is contemplating suicide to talk about it.

He posted: "It's hard to believe that it's been five years since our amazing sister Gay left us.

"Not a day goes by that I don't miss her and think of the good times we had.

"But what makes me saddest is when I think of the things she has missed and is missing - people she loved doing well, growing up, settling down (in moderation), getting on with their lives - and how happy that would have made her. Suicide sucks. Speak, don't suffer."

Mr Durkan told the Belfast Telegraph he decided to raise the issue and his own experiences so that more services are made available for suicidal people who need help. "I was actually hesitant about speaking out in case some people thought I was making political gain out of Gay's death - but then I thought some things are too important not to speak about them," he explained.

"I am lucky enough to be in a position of influence so I should speak out because our family knows exactly how painful it is to lose someone you love through suicide.

"Even now, while suicide is talked about more, there is still an element of awkwardness.

"People may be afraid to ask the question of someone they are worried about, and the same goes for someone who is feeling suicidal - they may be afraid to speak out about their feelings.

"But the reality is, even if they do, there are still not enough services available to them when they need that help, which is immediately - not in 10 or 12 weeks. I want more funding to be made available to reduce the number of people taking their own lives.

"The latest figures are 268 people in Northern Ireland died by suicide in 2014, but behind that there are all the family members and communities of friends who have been left devastated by each of those deaths.

"My sister wasn't just my sister, she was my best friend and I miss and think about her every day, we all do. She was funny, the life and soul of the party, an amazing practical joker, but she was also the most loving, compassionate person too.

"Gay would not have passed someone in the street if she thought they needed help and yet she didn't ask for help herself.

"When she died, like anyone who has died from suicide, the people left behind do a lot of soul searching and trying to pick up the pieces.

"I think about the conversations I had with her before she died and wonder what I could have, should have, said and I know that doesn't achieve anything.

"What hurts most is all the things I wanted her to be part of, all the good stuff that I know she would have been so happy about."

Anyone affected by this story can contact Samaritans on 116 123 or LifeLine on 0808 808 8000

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