The reluctance of people to seek help for mental health issues is leading to an increase in depression and suicide in the Irish community in New York, community leaders say.
Irish outreach groups agree it is a major problem: “We are aware of a number of suicides in the community over the last few years,” Órla Kelleher, Executive Director of the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers, told IrishCentral.
“I think there may be a lot more cases than we are aware of,” she added.
“The shock was the fact there were no warning signs in some cases.”
Irish organizations in New York City, such as the Aisling Irish Community Center and the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, offer free counseling services from licensed social workers.
As part of Aisling Irish Center’s suicide prevention program they introduced meditation and healing workshops, which have proven to be a tremendous success.
“We are teaching people how to hone in on their own coping skills,” Kelleher explained.
“The feedback from that has been absolutely amazing.”
Despite there being a solid demand for services, Elizabeth Donnelly, the Aisling Center’s social service and program development coordinator, agrees that many people will never seek help.
“It is still such a stigma,” Donnelly told IrishCentral. “People don’t want to admit they need help.”
“Generally when someone comes in, they are in dire need.”
Siobhan Dennehy, Executive Director of Emerald Isle Immigration Center told IrishCentral their team of experts are there to help.
“I know through our counseling services we have been able to save lives,” Dennehy told IrishCentral.
Dennehy adds that anyone seeking help can do so in the utmost confidence.
“People must understand if they engage with us for social services, that their information is not going to be shared with anybody.”
“That may be part of the stigma,” Dennehy suggests, “But people must know we hold our confidentiality standards to the highest level."
A reluctance to ask for help is something that Tyrone-born author Colin Broderick can relate to.
Broderick’s first memoir, "Orangutan", details his battle against alcohol addiction while working construction in New York City.
Broderick emphasizes the stigma towards seeking help.
“Nobody wants to be seen ducking into an Irish place offering help in those communities,” he told IrishCentral.
“Everybody is terrified that someone will find out they are suffering.”
“The biggest part of it is fear, fear of looking like you are different, like you are not conforming to what is normal in the Irish community.”
Broderick (45) says in his formative years, alcohol played a destructive role in his life in New York.
“For myself, being cut off from family, religion and community left me feeling adrift,” he explained.
“I have lived in Woodlawn and in Queens, it’s not a rich coffee culture, you are going to the bars out of loneliness.”
“You will go to the bar to be around the lads.
"Waking up with a hangover thinking, how am I going to deal with this hangover until I get back to the pub later."
“That scene today is no different to what it was 25-years ago when I got off the plane.”
Six years sober, Broderick wants people to realize it’s okay to ask for help.
“It’s alright to say ‘hey, I am in therapy’.”
“I suffered terribly with depression, but I am living proof you can get better,” Broderick told IrishCentral.
Read more on the issue of mental health here.
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