Lonely Irish emigrants rely on weekly Skype calls, constant Whatsapp, daily Facebook updates and all the other benefits of the Internet, but it does not make living away from your home and the loneliness that can come with that any easier to bear.
Many are catapulted from a familiar life in small town Ireland into the maelstrom of New York and issues like legality, lack of friends, depression and loneliness can loom very large. Each year there are suicides that likely could have been prevented.
Pieta House Ireland understands this. They understand how hard it can be, and that is why the renowned self-harm and suicide prevention center has opened its doors to its first US branch in New York City, to help the Irish in America with any difficulties they face, completely free of charge.
The New York branch opened last month and is the tenth branch of Pieta House and poses many new challenges for the prevention center. As Joan Freeman, CEO and Founder told IrishCentral, “Irish in NY are the same as back home,” but the challenges they face are not always the same.
To but it simply, Joan said, “New York is difficult.”
Spurred by the suicide of her own sister, Joan, a practicing psychologist, was determined to find out how she could help people who were suicidal, closing her own counseling business in 2003 to concentrate on research into what would be beneficial to them in helping them get through their dark time.
In 2006, she opened the first Pieta House center in Lucan, County Dublin. The center quickly became, as she describes herself, one of Ireland’s most popular charities. The Pieta House is opening eight more centers throughout Ireland before branching out to America this year.
Speaking to IrishCentral before a Public Information Evening on Pieta House and their Mind Your Buddy program on October 23 in Gaelic Park in the Bronx, Joan told us of the importance of training people to recognize the signs of suicide.
“There is such an importance in training and leading people. Teaching you not to be afraid and not to be afraid to ask the question [If you believe someone is suicidal],” she said.
“We will follow the Irish wherever they are, completely free of charge, there is no agenda here but to save lives.”
Throughout the past nine years, Pieta House has developed the code SIGNS to help everybody recognize and prevent suicide among those they know: sleep disturbance, isolation, giving away possessions, no interest in anything, and seeing no future.
Isolation, in particular, is a problem that those leaving Ireland may face in their new home, especially if faced with the difficulties of living in the US illegally. Living and working here without a visa leaves them unable to return home without giving up their lives here, even at times of illness or death in their families.
On top of this, many Irish people living in the US, both legally and illegally, do not have access to a proper health care system if they do need help, leaving them with no professional to talk to about their concerns.
“If they’re illegal, they can’t go home,” Joan continues.
“Isolation is even a bigger problem. You are automatically isolated the moment you arrive here [no matter your visa status].”
Although offering a counseling service free of charge to everybody from their base in the New York Irish Center in Queens, the New York branch of Pieta House also plans to begin their successful Mind Your Buddy campaign in the city, initially concentrating on the Irish Bronx neighborhood of Woodlawn.
The Mind Your Buddy program teaches volunteers to be the “eyes and ears of Pieta House,” training members of the community in how to recognize the signs shown by people who are having difficulties and teaching them how to address them. This helps the center to keep involved in the community and find those who need their help through recommendations from the people who know them best.
“For my generation, suicide was brushed under the carpet. This generation are not afraid; they are not afraid to seek help,” said Joan, telling IrishCentral that Ireland are ten years ahead of the US in terms of talking and discussing self-harm and suicide prevention.
The extension of Pieta House to the US has already received an amazing response from the Irish community in New York with 400 people turning out to walk 5 kilometers in the early hours of the morning on May 9 as part of the the charity’s popular Irish event “Darkness into Light,” a charity walk that Joan describes as “ a public shout about suicide.”
In January 2016, the Mind Your Buddy program will begin in Woodlawn with an afternoon workshop training any and all volunteers about how they can play their part in self-harm and suicide prevention.
Pieta House New York is free to all and located in the New York Irish Center, 10-40 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, New York, 11101.