by Louise Doyle
A DONEGAL mother whose young son died by suicide just seven months ago has called for suicide prevention initiatives to be mandatory in schools.
Claire McMonagle, whose 24-year-old son, Conor, took his own life on February 7 this year, was speaking out ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day tomorrow (Saturday) – a day which will be another painful reminder of her unimaginable loss.
Speaking to the Donegal News, the Quigley’s Point woman still raw with grief described her cherished son, who was a father-of-one, as “always smiling” and “easy going”.
Telling of how Conor was adventurous, even travelling to Australia in 2012 to work, Mrs McMonagle revealed how she and her family had no warning signs about the devastation that would so tragically unfold just a few years later.
“Conor was a wonderful son, brother and dad. He was such an easy going, happy go lucky fella and always smiling, having the craic and in good form. Conor had a passion for cars from a very young age and was always at his dad’s side working at cars and attending rallies. As a teenager, Conor had a real interest in stock car racing and later he went on to design and build his own track car. When he was seventeen, he was co-pilot for his dad during the 2009 Donegal International Rally.
“He went to Australia where he was given the task of setting up and managing a car body repair business which he loved.”
Having returned home in 2012, Conor’s son, Jamie, was born in August 2013, whom Mrs McMonagle says was “his pride and joy”.
She said: “He was a wonderful hands-on father which didn’t surprise us as he was always great with children and loved helping out and spending time with his younger cousins as they grew up.
“Conor was the type of person who was always willing to help others and countless people have told us of the jobs he did for them which he carried out with little fuss and no expectation of reward. He just got on with things without making a song and dance of it.”
Reflecting on the day her son died, Mrs McMonagle said her family will never be able to fill the constant void loss.
“It was the worst day of our lives. It was such a shock. Conor was the last person we thought would have taken his own life. We had no warning signs and he had appeared to be in good form as we enjoyed the previous night out together.
“Our family will never be the same again. There is a void that cannot be filled. We have a wonderful family and community and we have been overwhelmed by the goodness of people and the support they have given us. It is difficult to look forward and we just take each day as it comes. Conor’s little boy, Jamie, is a blessing to us in these difficult times and spending time with him always lifts our spirits and gives us a purpose for the future.”
Although counselling was made available to Mrs McMonagle and her family in the wake of their loss, she said they have not yet felt ready to avail of it, but added she knows it is there when they need it.
Continuing, Mrs McMonagle said she believes the only way to tackle the issue of suicide is to have mental health issues considered in the same way as physical illness.
“I think that suicide prevention initiatives should be mandatory in schools. Mental health should be treated in the same way as any physical illness but unfortunately this is not the case. We need to remove the stigma about mental health. We need to be more open about discussing the issue of suicide and also become more aware of mental health illnesses such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and self harm.
“Youth Suicide Awareness and Prevention has an excellent booklet called Guidance and information for secondary school teachers, which is well worth a read.
“Young people, especially young men, find it difficult to talk about how they are feeling. I feel as a nation we are not good at expressing our feelings. This needs to be encouraged. I think that both parents and educators have an important role to play as role models encouraging children from a young age to feel confident in expressing their feelings and also providing them with the language to do this.”
Mrs McMonagle added that concentration must also be give to nurturing children and young people’s ability to cope in difficult situations.
“They need to be supported and encouraged to face challenges and take risks and to develop a positive attitude to learning and life. There is often too much emphasis placed on what a child cannot do rather than focusing on what they can do. I personally believe that there is too much emphasis on academic achievement. Whilst some children excel academically, it is not for all. Every child has different strengths and skills which should be recognised equally.”
Although grief-stricken and devastated, Mrs McMonagle and her wider family circle, along with Conor’s friends, spearheaded a major fundraising drive for Pieta House Northwest campaign, raising more than €24,000.
“We held a charity event in memory of Conor on 2nd July this year which included a raffle, auction and dance. We were inundated with fantastic prizes and auction items from the local community. The whole community, young and old, came out to support the event which made the night a great success raising €24,157 for Pieta House Northwest.
“We helped out with the bucket collection in our area this year and also organised a Church gate collection. We will continue to support Pieta House Northwest in the future and hope to be involved in organising and supporting fundraising events on a yearly basis.”
Last month it was revealed that plans to open a Pieta House suicide and self harm crisis in Donegal next year received a significant boost with the confirmation that a financial target of between €18,000 and €200,000 has almost been met, and that a delegation from Pieta House was to meet representatives from local charity, ‘Action for Hope’.