“There is great sadness in Ireland”
As Hope Trust prepare for their candle-lit walk this evening (Thursday) one of their counsellors Linda Rowett has spoken about her role and how our communities can offer support to those bereaved by suicide.
Linda, a native of Zimbabwe, has lived in Athlone since 2014. She is a counsellor with Hope Trust, which was founded in 2006 in response to the high levels of suicide in the Midlands region. They offer counselling for bereavement and suicidal feelings, as well as other issues such as depression, anxiety, self-harm, anger management and finding meaning in life.
When Linda came on board in 2012, the first thing that struck her was the prevalence of self-harm, particularly among young people.
“Lots of parents, teachers and youth workers don't know what to do with the issue, and need to be equipped with the tools,” she explains. With this in mind, Hope Trust developed a series of workshops to assist adults working with young people.
“These were aimed initially at those in the church community who wanted to upskill in these areas, but they are interdenominational and for anyone who has a heart to help.”
Hope Trust also run bereavement support groups, whose members meet together over a period of eight weeks.
“These groups offer a safe place for people to explore their grief with like-minded people,” says Linda. “People have found them very supportive and informative. We are not going to resolve everything in eight weeks, but it is a way to find support, create links in the community and highlight where further support is available down the road.”
Linda moved to Ireland in 2008, having trained with Youth With a Mission in Zimbabwe and the Philippi Trust in the UK. She worked in Capetown, South Africa for several years, where she established support groups for people with HIV, and worked with orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV.
She later moved to the UK with her eldest daughter and her family, and while there she felt she was being called to Ireland.
“At that point my son-in-law was offered work in Ireland, so we moved here. They went back to the UK, but I had started working with Hope Trust and had started a degree on Community and Family – I felt I needed a degree for the Irish context, to understand how Irish people think and act.”
Linda says she can see some parallels between Irish and African society, in that people are “very people-oriented”.
“But there is great sadness in Ireland with suicide, and there is a lot of sadness in the history of Ireland. I hope this is something that will shift,” she says.
“In rural communities, so many of the younger generation have had to leave the country. I come from a country where a lot of people were displaced, farmers had land taken and people left the country because of violence. It takes a while to know where you belong again, and I think Irish people have that longing to be back home.”
When it comes to death, Linda feels the Irish “do death well” in the immediate aftermath, particularly with regard to funeral traditions, but that community support can dwindle as time passes.
“Six months down the line things get difficult. This is when people are often feeling the grief of loss the most and they tend to withdraw, and people misinterpret this.
“I would like to think communities are getting more sensitive to where people are at, and offering support and space for people to meet.”
Linda offers counselling with Hope Trust. She would like to invite all those who would like to celebrate life and support those bereaved by suicide to join in a candle-lit walk in Athlone this evening at 6.30pm from St Peter and Paul's Church.