Pieta House South East has been open in Waterford for just over two years and has dealt with more than 350 clients so far this year.
PIETA House provides freely accessible, professional, confidential services to people who are in suicidal crisis, those who are self-harming, and people who have been bereaved by suicide.
This week marks Pieta House’s FeelGood Week which is a nationwide festival of wellness, mindfulness, active, social, fun and funky events designed to help you find the feeling that reminds you how good you can feel – and to use that feeling to do some good and raise some vital funds for Pieta House too. Pieta House South East opened just over two years ago and is one of 15 such centres throughout Ireland. The warm and welcoming premises located at 20, Waterside in Waterford City provides an oasis of comfort and calmness for those who may be experiencing turmoil.
As the name suggests, Pieta House South East doesn’t just serve the people of Waterford but also the wider region.The total number of clients who engaged with Pieta House South East in 2017 was 362 – so far this year that number stands at 357. Fundraising and Advocacy Officer with Pieta House South East Olive Ruane explained that there has been an increase in the number of teenagers availing of their services as well as younger children.
Pieta House has specialised services for children and adolescents, including play therapy for younger clients and dedicated counselling rooms in every centre. The positive shift in stigmas around general mental health and wellbeing is believed to be a contributing factor to the rise in the numbers of people using Pieta House services. The increase in usage of Pieta House services is also being attributed to the high profile fundraisers which have been held in recent times. Additionally, Olive says young people in particular are now more open about speaking about their feelings.However, there is one notable demographic which needs to be improved according to Olive. Despite the fact that figures show that men are most at risk of taking their lives by suicide, she says the number of males engaging with Pieta House does not correspond with this.“I do feel we are still a long way from blanket acceptance of mental health issues,” she said.
“There is still that sense of having to be a big man, that boys and men shouldn’t cry, and that it’s a flaw in a man to admit if he is struggling. We seriously need to move beyond that.”Olive explained that the Pieta House thereiptic approach is rooted in compassion and care and specialised programmes are developed for different groups. “In terms of meeting people’s needs, Pieta House is certainly very proactive,” she said.“It would be very foolish to think that it’s a one size fits all approach and that you just trot out a package that suits everybody.”
Importantly, it’s not just the person who is experiencing mental health issues who can avail of Pieta House services – support can also be provided to the individual’s support person.
Additionally, bereavement counselling and the Suicide Bereavement Liaison Service provides emotional and practical support to the bereaved.
Pieta House also works within communities, for example in the aftermath of a high profile or tragic death.“Specifically trained personnel can meet with the wider family, schools, a sports club that the person may have been involved in,” explained Olive. “We can see who is in need of immediate help and who is coping better. Even within a family one person might sail through something whereas somebody else might react in a very different way.” Olive says ease of access to Pieta House services is extremely important so that people are not trying to “jump through hoops to get here”.
People can self-refer and Olive says many people ring Pieta House themselves which is a “huge step”. “The first step is the most difficult – to lift the phone or come across the doorstep. Therefore, it’s so important that your first contact with Pieta House is seamless and caring,” she said. At Pieta House South East, the friendly clinical support staff who are ‘front of house’ have a warm and caring disposition and are ready to welcome all visitors to the House.
“The four clinical support staff are specifically trained to do the role they do,” explained Olive.Every situation is unique and involves an assessment by a therapist to establish if Pieta House can best meet the needs of the individual. If Pieta House is deemed suitable, the client is assigned a therapist. Olive says there is a “unique relationship” between each client and their therapist.
If somebody calls the 24 hour helpline (1800 247 247) outside of the opening house of any Pieta House centre, arrangements are made to put the person seeking help in contact with the House that’s nearest to them as soon as possible. There are 11 staff members in-house at Pieta House South East including six therapists. Therapists also regularly travel from Dublin in addition to the visits made by the Suicide Bereavement Liaison Officer. “The staff are fantastic and a great support to each other,” said Olive. “It’s difficult work but there is a structure of support for everybody. It’s very rewarding when you see the difference in somebody who may have arrived here in pure despair.”Those who have availed of Pieta House services often decide to stage a fundraiser in order to give something back.
Funding of 15 per cent is received from government so fundraising amongst the general public is obviously hugely important in order to ensure services continue. Olive says all at Pieta House South East are extremely grateful for the support of their charity partners in Waterford. “Pieta House didn’t just appear in Waterford. A huge amount of work went on in the background,” she said. “This House wouldn’t exist without the generosity of communities and individuals. The support has been incredible. People have been absolutely fantastic.” In particular, she says Sun Life have been very supportive in bringing Pieta House to Waterford and continue to show their support. New companies to Waterford have also been helping Pieta House including WestPharma who presented a corporate donation during their official opening ceremony in July. Without doubt, the most famous Pieta House fundraiser is Darkness into Light which has attracted huge numbers, has become a global movement, and continues to go from strength to strength.
Olive explained that significant research has been carried out around the positive spin-offs which are generated by Darkness into Light. There are numerous Darkness into Light committees throughout the South East, including locally in Waterford City, Dungarvan and Carrick-on-Suir. Olive says she continues to be “blown away” by the amount of work they do. “I am completely in awe of what Darkness into Light committees do on a voluntary basis,” she said. “They will start their work before Christmas and continue up until May. They are the most committed group of people I know and I can’t praise them enough.” She says the event itself is always a special experience. “When you got out on the streets, there is a huge sense of community and camaraderie,” she said.
“Some people may be participating because of a recent bereavement and it could be their first time outside the door. People talk about their experiences and support each other.”
Olive explained that there are often very personal stories behind the reasons why people decide to embark on a fundraiser for Pieta House.
“I’m rarely at an event where somebody doesn’t come up and relay an experience that they have had around suicide or mental health,” she said.
While fundraisers are hugely important from a financial perspective, awareness is also a significant factor.In a further attempt to increase awareness and strive towards removing stigmas, Pieta House is staging FeelGood Week from October 20th to 27th. To take part, people are encouraged to get together with family, friends or workmates and organise a FeelGood event be it a yoga session, a reunion lunch, a book club meeting or a walk in the great outdoors – anything that gives people enjoyment and makes them feel good.
Olive hopes that the initiative will encourage people to be “brave enough to start a conversation around suicide”.
“It’s all about the simple things,” she explained.
“One of the rationales behind FeelGood Week is that you always feel good when you do good and that being healthy and active feeds into good mental health.”Olive hopes the initiative will create a sense of community “regardless of how small that community is” and that people will feel “part of something”. “It might be an opportunity for somebody who is struggling to start a conversation or to be aware of the fact we are here and call in,” she said.It’s hoped that the event can be developed further and become an annual event.
Olive, a former teacher, is delighted that Pieta House is also in the process of rolling out its Resilience Academy which aims to equip secondary school students with the emotional resilience tools to ensure that they won’t need the services of Pieta House as adults.She believes it’s important to integrate such a programme into the school curriculum to ensure the skills which are taught actually become part of children’s lives.
“Overall the statistics on where it has already been rolled out as a pilot project have been very positive so hopefully it will be broadened out and available to more schools in the future,” she said.
The Resilience Academy, FeelGood Week and Darkness into Light are all examples of how Pieta House is making a positive impact in communities nationwide.
Waterford is fortunate to have such a fantastic service consisting of such dedicated, sensitive and caring people and Pieta House South East is certainly a valuable asset for the entire region.
Pieta House South East is open from Monday-Thursday 9am – 9pm and Friday 9am-5pm. For more information call 051-858510 or email info@ pieta.ie The national helpline, 1800 247 247 is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or text ‘HELP’ to 51444.To find out more about FeelGood Week visit www.pieta.ie/feelgood