In 2006, Dublin psychologist Joan Freeman founded Pieta House, a center dedicated to preventing suicide and self harm among the Irish community. After nine years of success stories in Ireland, they are now expanding their services to reach the Irish in America.
Each week, ten people in Ireland commit suicide, eight of whom are men. Freeman believes suicides in Ireland are poorly documented and accounted for, however, and that the true figures actually amount to twenty suicides per week.
“Ten years ago, twelve years ago, nobody mentioned the word ‘suicide’ in Ireland,” Freeman told IrishCentral in an interview. “It was very much hidden under the carpet.”
“I used to have a private practice, and as a therapist I was terrified of anybody who was suicidal. But my sister died by suicide, and that’s how it started.”
The Pieta House provides free one-on-one counseling by psychologists and psychotherapists for suicide survivors, those with thoughts of suicide, and those who self harm. They have 9 centers across Ireland with 180 staff members.
“We have almost completed our vision, which is to have a service within 100 km (62 miles) of every single person in Ireland, so we’re nearly there. About another two years and we’ll have reached that vision,” Freeman said.
One of the center’s flagship fundraisers is a 5k walk called “Darkness into Light,” which starts at 4 am and finishes as the dawn breaks – “It’s symbolic,” Freeman said, “because we see our work as bringing people from the dark into the light.”
This year 80,000 people attended the walks in Ireland, and they are now expanding into the U.S., starting with a Darkness into Light walk in Yonkers’ Tibbetts Brook Park, just outside of New York City. The walk will be held on May 9 of next year.
Freeman’s aim is to open a Pieta House service in Queens’ New York Irish Center within 6-8 months which will provide mental health counseling for the Irish in need within the greater New York City area. They have also been in contact with Irish centers in Boston, Chicago and D.C. about expansion.
“Any money that is fundraised in New York will stay in New York, and 50% of funds from Darkness into Light will stay as well for the Irish in New York,” Freeman told IrishCentral. She said that 90% of funding for Pieta House comes from the public’s donations and fundraisers.
The Pieta House has also started a campaign called “Mind our Men,” which teaches signs of suicide to the general public, and how to look out for the men in their lives properly, given the high ratio of male to female suicides.
Similarly, Freeman has formed a collaborative campaign with the GAA called “Mind Ur Buddy,” which teaches the athletes signs of suicide “so that they can be the link between that person who’s in distress and a Pieta service.”
Research has been done on the Pieta House’s therapeutic model that proves the decrease of suicidal thoughts and depression in those affected, as well an increase in self-esteem, after around six months of one on one sessions.
For more information, visit their website.