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Event aims to empower local people in the fight against mental illness

Giving power back to the community

By Paul Ainsworth

The latest initiative to tackle suicide is to take place next month in the form of two conferences aimed at both urban and rural areas.

‘Breaking the Silence: Shoulder to Shoulder with the Community’ is being organised by leading Belfast suicide prevention group PIPS and the Mid-Ulster based Níamh Louise Foundation and is supported by the Belfast Media Group.

Described by PIPS founder Phillip McTaggart as a “first aid course in mental health”, the aim of the conference is to “give power back to communities” .

Community  support in tackling mental health issues  is essential, says Phillip, who has been working since 2008 to help those at risk of suicide, after the loss of his son.

PIPS also provides help to those who have suffered a loss, and information given on how entire communities can join together to recognise the traumatic issue and play a part in offering help to those who might need it.

Such is the problem of those at suicide risk in rural areas, that the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is part-funding the PIPS conference that will take place in  County Antrim, while another event will take place in Belfast.

Both are open to community representatives and locals to attend and learn about how help can be offered.

“What we are trying to achieve with the conferences is giving power back to communities over this difficult issue,” Phillip explained.

“They have a role to play, whether they be family, friends, neighbours churches, sports clubs or other groups. We can show those who attend how to identify and talk to people who may be displaying the signs that they are at risk of suicide or self-harm, and show them what assistance is available.

“You could describe it as a first aid course in mental health, for both types of community, those in the city and those in the rural country areas.

“Where we know how much suicide affects urban areas, in the country it is also a major issue, and it can often be the result of the effects of isolation, perhaps for those in the farming community.

“If we can reach out to the grassroots in those areas, working with organisations like local sports clubs for instance, then we are empowering groups who are able to reach out themselves and identify someone who may be at risk. These are not conferences for health professionals, they are for ordinary people, who have an interest in the wellbeing of their friends, neighbours and colleagues.”

Assisting in the events will be the rural-based Niamh Louise Foundation, which works across the Mid-Ulster region, along with some of Ireland’s top trauma experts, and members of Stormont’s Health Committee.

“Even if you aren’t a member of any local club or organisation, this is a grassroots series of events and we would like your involvement as everyone has a role to play in helping those in the areas where they live. We want this to be a positive thing as well, where we explain to people that, although it can be a cliché at times, it’s important to follow your dreams and aim high in life.

“If people in communities can be positive, it’s for the good of everyone, and we still need this support in our areas, as statistics will show.”

Statistics showing that suicides have increased by 60 per cent in Belfast over the last six years are enough to show that the work of groups such as PIPS is more than essential.

“It’s an issue that is not going away, as we need to continue to work at it, and ‘Shoulder to Shoulder with the Community’ is one way of doing so,” Phillip added. “For it to be a success, we really need community involvement and that’s why we want to emphasise that these event truly are for everyone.

“If communities can take this issue to heart, then there will be more support for individuals who feel like they have nowhere else to turn.”


Breaking the Silence… will take place on May 17 in Conway Mill and in Greenmount Agricultural College, Antrim on May 16. For more information on attending, contact PIPS on 02890287836.

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