A spate of inexplicable suicides has swept the Irish community in New York.
In the space of just six weeks, three young Irish men have taken their lives.
Six weeks ago a young Kerry footballer, who was believed to have a history of depression, ended his life just hours after getting off the plane from Ireland.
Five weeks later a well-known Corkman in his 30s took his life, leaving behind a son in New York.
Exactly one week later, another young Corkman, famous for his love of English soccer, ended his own life.
A social worker at the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers said such suicides are often a desperate last measure by someone suffering from major depression.
"They really don’t want to leave this world," says Elizabeth Donnelly. "They just want to find a way out of their depression.”
An Irish suicide survivor confirmed that when he spoke to IrishCentral.com and the Irish Voice this week about his path back to health.
David (not his real name) was 32 when he took an overdose seven months ago. It was a few days after Christmas.
David had been suffering from depression since his youth. After 12 days of solid drinking he said he acted on thoughts that had been with him for a long time.
He admits that although he never “seriously” contemplated actually committing suicide, it was “definitely at the back of my mind” for as long as he can remember.
“In the end,” said David, “it was after 12 days of a drinking session” that gave him the courage to lock himself into his bedroom late one Sunday evening and take a bottle full of tablets.
Thankfully, his brother reached him on time and he survived.
David is not a big drinker. A social drinker at best, but his mood had been very low leading up to Christmas.
“Drinking was something I tended to do when my form was really low to make me happy again,” he said.
Unfortunately after the few hours of drinking, his depression would knock the wind out of him again, often making him feel worse than before.
David said if he wasn’t on a drinking bender last Christmas, he would “most definitely” not have tried to take his own life.
“The problem with drinking when you’re feeling low is that you don’t think rationally,” he explained.
“I would never have dreamed of doing what I did when I was in a sober state of mind, and unfortunately it was a decision that I can never take back,” he said.
“I regret the pain and torment I could have caused my family if I had managed to commit suicide.
“It’s hard to imagine how they would even begin to pick up the pieces after losing a loved one to something as tragic as suicide. Not to mention the pain I would have caused a lot of good friends also.”
David believes his depression is the result of being bullied as a child about his looks. David is an attractive 33-year-old but can’t see it.
He is the life and soul of a party and he was the first person to poke fun at himself for his “ugliness.”
His behavior gave his friends the green light to add to the insults and he said he found their jeering too much to cope with.
“I have struggled to accept the way I have looked all my life for whatever reason. I am 33 years of age and I have never had a serious relationship, so the loneliness that comes with that can be very hard to bare at times.”
Now that he has survived his suicide attempt, David said life has improved. "It’s a work in progress but I am so glad to be alive,” he said.
David came clean clean about his sadness and depression to his family in the hospital in the days following his overdose. He said it was like a huge weight being lifted off his shoulders.
David’s first step was counseling and taking a course of anti-depressants.
“Now counseling doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, but I found it helped me a lot. And I would definitely recommend anti-depressants,” he said.
“The thing is you just have to be patient with them as they take about four to six weeks before you will feel the benefits of them but I promise you when the time comes the medication will give you a lot of peace and contentment,” he said. David also admitted that he had been dismissive about taking tablets to improve his outlook but now would recommend them to anyone.
David also said he had started doing more exercise. He joined a gym and took up cycling. He recently completed a 120-mile cycle in aid of charity. “Everyone says that exercise is a natural anti-depressant and they are so right. I definitely know getting fit has helped me to have a healthier state of mind,” he said.
He accepts that life will be difficult at times, but he uses different coping strategies to work through these times, and he now reaches out to friends and family if he feels lonely or depressed. He has also given up alcohol.
“There will always be tough times ahead that’s just a part of life but there is also so many more wonderful things about life that I have experienced and will get to experience now that I am still here.”
“All I can say is not to try and carry whatever burden it is that you carry all by yourself. Tell someone you can trust or even a complete stranger if you have to. There are also help lines with really good people that can help you through the hard times and start getting you back on your feet again.
“Trust me from someone who has been through the very depths of depression and has managed to get through it and find the way to smile and be happy again that it is really possible, I promise you. Don’t let people get you down and just be proud of who you are.”
Meanwhile, Donnelly, says there are warning signs to watch out for in people who are suicidal .
“There are many signs to watch out for,” she says. “Subtle ones may be withdrawal from friends and family, a dramatic mood change, a sense of worthlessness, increased use of substances, restlessness, anxiety, not sleeping, and the more obvious ones are talks of suicide, pre-occupation of death, looking for ways to die, researching them online maybe.”
Donnelly also warns that right before a suicide attempt a person is usually calmer.
“They have made up their mind at this stage that they are going to take their life so they are suddenly feeling happier and calmer,” she said.
Donnelly said if a person says they are going to commit suicide then listen to them. “They mean it.”
She also advises to bring a person to the nearest emergency room for a psychological evaluation if they say they going to take their lives.
“Seek professional help immediately. Don’t wait,” she said.
‘They really don’t want to leave this world. They just want to find a way out of their depression.”
Donnelly said it’s imperative for people suffering from depression or with suicidal thoughts to realize that there is a way to get better.
“They don’t have to carry this for the rest of their lives. There is help out there and a person can get better,” adds Donnelly.
The Aisling Irish Community Center and the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Yonkers, the Bronx and Queens have social workers available to work with people confidentially.
“You can call us here at the center at any time. We also have an emergency number that can be activated by calling the center,” said Donnelly.
“If a person doesn’t want to come to the center we can go to them. It’s important to talk to someone if you are feeling suicidal. There is help out there and your life can be saved.”
The number for the 24-7 suicide prevention hotline for the Samaritans of New York is 212-673-3000.
The number for the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers is 914-237-5121 or 914-237-7121. The number for the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in the Bronx is 718-324-3039 and Queens, 718-478-5502. Donnelly can also be emailed confidentially at email@example.com
A Mass has been organized by the Aisling Center for all the families and friends of suicide and sudden death/accident victims over the years in the Irish community in New York. The mass will take place on Friday, July 31 at 8 p.m. at St. Barnabas Church in Woodlawn.