Beyond the neon runes

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A city of lost souls

To anyone who lives in the city centre it’s a familiar sound, a reminder of just how fragile life can be.

The whirring of those blades, that distant thrum, as the search and rescue helicopter scans the Shannon for another lost soul.

We know straight away what it means, that someone has reached breaking point. That they’ve made a decision. They have woken up and decided that this is to be their last day on this earth, that their story must end here, that there can be no other way.

Sometimes the news which follows is positive; they’ve been rescued, airlifted to hospital, where they’ll recuperate from their ordeal and receive the kind of treatment which might make this a turning point in their lives. But more often than not, the news is bad, so bad that we’re reluctant to open the newspaper, turn on the radio, for fear of being exposed to it, for fear of hearing that another someone, a father, a son, a brother, has lost his battle with a disease which takes so many.

And that disease has taken its fair share of Limerick people, in fact it’s taken more from this city than any other place in the country.

The latest report released by the National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP) makes for grim reading if you’ve got any affiliation with this city.

Although there has been a general decrease in the numbers taking their own lives since 2015, Limerick city still has the highest rate of suicide in Ireland. With 17.2 deaths per 100,000 head of population, it has almost double the national average of 9.7 and substantially more than Limerick county at 8.5. The next nearest county is Roscommon at 16.2, with the cities of Cork, Galway and Dublin having 12.4, 12.2 and 6.9 deaths respectively.

It’s worth noting that these figures are all relative, and that in 2014 a total of 486 people died by suicide in this country. Bearing that in mind, the figures registered in Limerick city are not as dramatic as a headline like “twice the national average” would suggest. But there’s no getting away from it, this is a problem, and it has been for some time now.

Since 2009, Limerick city has been the area most affected by suicide, and as recently as 2012 the figure stood at 27.2 deaths per 100,000 head of population. Taking that into consideration, you could argue that things are improving, that we’re gradually turning the tide, but these latest figures simply reflect a nationwide decrease and, like it or not, Limerick city is still the worst affected region in Ireland.

So, what can be done to address this issue? To rid the city of this unwanted tag?

Well, initiatives like Mental Health Week, which gets underway tomorrow, certainly help. As do other similar campaigns that have erased much of the stigma surrounding mental health and given those previously suffering in silence the courage to seek the help they so desperately require. In terms of awareness and of highlighting this issue, I don’t think there’s a whole lot more than can be done. Yes, there will always be some for whom no amount of positive reinforcement will be enough, people who will refuse to admit weakness, to admit they’re not alright, despite the normalcy now associated with these illnesses, but they are now the minority where once they would have been the majority.

If awareness isn’t the issue, if shame and stigma isn’t the problem, then what exactly is?

Mining deeper into the figures offers a little insight, but perhaps few surprises. For example, would you be shocked if I told you that those most commonly dying by suicide were men between the ages of 45-54. While that information may be far from revelatory, it does point to a generation of men for whom this discussion and debate has come a little too late, middle-aged men who grew up in different times and have been unable to adapt to this sudden acceptance of issues they had learned to hide away.

But ultimately what it comes down to is the level of care on offer. It’s been a while since I had to avail of the standardised mental health services provided by the HSE, but if my own previous experiences are anything to go by, then it’s no surprise that so many people in this country, and this city, feel they’ve got nowhere to turn.

We already know our hospitals are overcrowded, that sick, dying people are breathing their last on trolleys, so what hope is there for those whose symptoms are not so readily diagnosed? For those who present themselves at their local hospital in nothing more than a state of panic?

Because that’s how you’re likely to be viewed. I know I was. Yes, they may talk you down, refer you to the pamphlets available at the front-desk, and send you away with something to help you sleep, but you’re still going to wake up to the same set of problems the following morning.

Of course, there are free services available; counselling, therapy, drop-in centres where those most affected can call in and receive some level of treatment. But this is Ireland, this is the HSE, there are waiting lists, problems with funding, underqualified people, overworked and overwhelmed, incapable of providing the support needed for someone who is on the brink, who at any point may be just days away from making that wretched, helpless decision.

No, the only way to receive the correct level of support, to ensure your needs are addressed and you’re given the best chance of living with your illness, is to go private. It’s as simple as that. Because that’s where the best therapists are, that’s where you’ll be treated not as a number, a name to be ticked off a list, but as a human being, as someone who deserves to be looked after, someone who matters. But who among us can afford that? Many of those most deeply affected by mental illness also struggle financially, the stress of making ends meet, of feeding themselves and their family, contributing to their fragile state of mind.

Which brings us back to Limerick city and its own unique set of problems. While local politicians like to paint rosy pictures, project into the future, big up plans for 2030, 2040, and to infinity and beyond, the reality is somewhat different. Unemployment continues to be a huge problem in this city, with rates of almost 60% in the worst affected areas, and more black spots than anywhere else nationwide.

This is why Limerick city has recorded the highest number of deaths by suicide for the past decade. Its people continue to be ignored, to be fobbed off, told that things are improving when they are anything but. And while we wait for something to happen, for things to change, that helicopter will continue to circle overhead, its incessant drone a reminder of how bad things really are.

How was it for you? 

Did you know that a third of Japanese people reach the age of thirty without having had sex? A generation of men who admit to finding women ‘scary’ are being blamed for a phenomenon that has seen birth-rates plummet in the island nation.

But rather than combat this malaise by forcing young males to interact with their female counterparts, the most technology-advanced country in the world is simply exacerbating the problem.

Sex-dolls. They’re everywhere right now. There was one on ‘This Morning’ with Phillip and Holly, a creepy looking thing that lived with its owner and his wife. One at a convention in Spain which received such a groping that it suffered multiple injuries and had to be sent to sex-doll hospital. And another which, having become an integral part of her paramour’s life, has taken to sharing clothes with his daughter.

These dolls have been available in Japan for a while now and, judging by the number of twentysomethings still waiting to pop their cherry, have proved a roaring success. But it seems only a matter of time before we follow suit, before young Irish lads forego the local nightclub for an evening indoors with a docile, subservient lady who never says no, regardless of the request.

Yet there’s something about this whole thing that I find rather puzzling: Why are all the sex dolls female? Yes, I know men are, at their core, irredeemable perverts and that the thought of a girlfriend with an off-switch is impossible to resist. But what of the female populace? Surely they’d like a piece of the action too. Would they not like a man who doesn’t fart in bed, who doesn’t stand her up when there’s football on, and who will sit there and listen while she explains just why Dorothy from Accounts is an absolute bitch. Equality lads, that’s all we’re asking for here.