Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland boy Oisin Quigley who lost dad to suicide wants schools to teach about mental health

By Leona O'Neill

A Londonderry teenager whose father took his own life says mental health awareness must be taught in schools to help reduce Northern Ireland's high suicide rate.

Oisin Quigley's father Colm was 39 when he passed away seven years ago, leaving the then 12-year-old and his four siblings heartbroken.

Oisin, now 19 and a student at Preston University, says his father had been battling depression for some time.

"I remember a really bad six-month period before my dad died," he recalled.

"My mother and father had been separated for about a year. My dad had come through a really rough time where he tried to take his own life. My uncle found him and got him to the hospital in time. That was on my sister's birthday.

"I remember he was going to therapy and was living with his mother, and I would see him several times a week. I remember going to see him and there being a sort of absence and sadness that was constantly on him.

"I remember there was an advertisement for mental health on the television. It shows a man laughing and joking with his friends and when they leave it shows him taking off a happy face mask and placing it on the bathroom sink. He said that was exactly how he felt.

"He would very rarely have talked about it.

"Generally when we were around he was happy, but we did feel a difference."

Oisin said the day he discovered his father had died is seared into his memory forever.

"I had just come back from my friend's house. It was a Sunday. I had went home and had gone to my bedroom to do my homework. I had heard a bit of a commotion downstairs and my mother crying. She called me down. When I went into the living room she said 'your daddy's dead'.

"I remember just pushing her away as she was trying to hug me. I couldn't comprehend it. I remember the day in black and white. I don't remember the colours. I remember thinking that I owed my Dad £10 and that I wouldn't have to pay it back. I think it was a weird thing I thought to try and make sense of it all. I was only 12."

Northern Ireland has the highest rate of suicide in the UK.

In 2016, 297 people here took their own lives, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.

Oisin said the stigma surrounding mental health must be overcome.

"I'm by no means an authority on the issue of mental health," he added.

"I read recently that in Northern Ireland 300 people die by suicide every year. That is horrifying.

"We rationalise it in our heads wrong, I think. Unless you're terribly, terribly depressed, nobody goes and gets help.

"You are almost shamed or embarrassed, you don't want to talk about mental health," he said.

"There are cures out there. We need to work as a community to spread awareness of these cures, to break the stigma 'mental' illnesses are surrounded by, and to show people that there's no more shame in depression than there is in the common cold.

"I know there is help out there. But it shouldn't be that we realise we are depressed when we are too far gone. We should be taught to recognise the symptoms very early on, the same way as a cold."

Oisin believes mental health awareness should be taught in every school in Northern Ireland.

"I think that mental health awareness should be taught at school, in a dedicated class," he said. "Young people should really be given time to understand these things.

"When people aren't educated on this issue then things happen the way they happened to my dad, and the way they happen to other 300 people who die by suicide here.

"I would like to see the Departments of Health and Education join forces and do something. Once the public and private sectors get on board and start to normalise this serious problem I think that's how we'll cut down on this killer."

If you or anyone close to you is affected by the issues in this article, please contact the Samaritans free on 116123 or Lifeline on 080 8808 8000.

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