Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland mum-of-five who lost sons to join suicide rally

Belfast march set to demand mental health care action

By Claire McNeilly

Deaths by suicide in Northern Ireland have reached an all time high because there is no adequate mental health provision in place, it has been claimed.

Campaigners have voiced growing concern over figures which show 318 local people took their own lives in 2015 - the highest total since records began in 1970.

A March for Life rally will take place in Belfast at the weekend in order to raise awareness of the issue and support suicide prevention.

It's the first time such an event has been held in Northern Ireland and comes just one month after Belfast woman Patricia Ferrin lost a third son to suicide in six years. The mother-of-five recently told the Belfast Telegraph how she felt broken by grief in the aftermath of 31-year-old son Stephen's death.

"I don't have any sons now. My heart is torn away," she said.

But the grieving 56-year-old is hoping to reach out to others in similar situations and prevent such devastating losses happening in the future.

She added that by attending the rally on Saturday, she and others could highlight the frightening levels of suicide among young men in Northern Ireland.

"These young people can't see any other way out," she said.

"In my opinion they are not getting the help they need. People are not listening.

"There are more pressures on youngsters than ever before.

"There have been so many suicides, it has almost become the norm. I'm speaking out because I'm scared people are becoming immune to it."

Patricia said Belfast urgently needs a dedicated mental health facility, and wants more money put into dealing with the problem because she felt Stephen couldn't get help when it was most needed.

"The medical profession could have done more," she said.

"I feel as if I've been betrayed and I'm angry. It seemed as if nobody could do anything when Stephen was on his knees begging for help."

The north Belfast mother admitted that she had feared Stephen would succumb to suicide after his brothers Kieran (24) and Niall (19) took their own lives in 2014 and 2011, respectively. Their cousin Christopher, also 19, took his own life in 2010 and, tragically, the father-of-one lost seven of his close friends in the same way.

Patricia recalled that, on the weekend of his passing, her distressed son had been asked at a mental health facility if he could 'hold on' until Monday; he ultimately took his own life on the Sunday.

"He never got over his brothers' deaths. He lost both of them, his cousin and seven other friends to suicide.

"I honestly believe I started to lose Stephen when the first of his friends - Philip McTaggart - took his own life 14 years ago."

It was Philip's death, aged just 17, which prompted his father, who is also called Philip, to found the suicide charity Pips.

Mr McTaggart is behind the March for Life rally next month and now runs Mindskills Training, which promotes mental wellbeing through education.

He said that, 14 years on, he still has "bad days" over his son's death. "There are so many things to miss," he said.

He said Northern Ireland needed to break down the barriers and stigma around mental health and suicide.

He called for funding and education and a dedicated centre of excellence established to help people like Stephen and Philip.

Mr McTaggart added: "We are asking politicians to listen and to take urgent action.

"But this is not a blame game. It's just the right thing to do."

The march will leave Queen's Square beside the Albert Clock at noon.

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