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Highlighting north west’s lack of suicide prevention

John McGee with a picture of his late son, Barney.

JOHN McGee says he remembers like yesterday the day his son Barney took his own life.

Speaking out in a bid to highlight the dearth of support for young people in the north west who are suffering from mental health issues, Mr McGee says whilst he has never accepted the death, he has learned “to live with it.”

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Brendan ‘Barney’ McGee killed himself in October 2007, totally “out of the blue,” according to his father. The former Shamrocks and Tyrone minor hurler was only 22-years-old at the time.

“I do remember it like it was yesterday,” Mr McGee said.

“Ten years on… it’s been hard.

“That night he got a taxi up home to Castlegrange and the taxi man told me after he was talking about moving house and that he was happy and laughing. But he had his mind made up because he had the notes and everything made out before.”

He added, “You never forget it. You learn to live with it but you never get over it.”

Shortly before his death Barney McGee penned a number of messages to his family. In one, he told his fiancée that she was the only girl he had ever loved.

In a second, much darker revelation however he wrote that he had been suffering from long-term depression and that he could not go on. He also urged other people suffering from mental health issues to seek help before it was too late.

However, despite this warning, John McGee says suicides are becoming ever more prevalent, especially in the north west. He believes that a lack of a 24-hour drop-in centre is the missing link in terms of preventative measures.

He referred to places like London where there are drop in centres for people suffering from mental health issues.

“I would like to see a bit of funding for the like of that,” Mr McGee explained. “Over here, there’s nothing preventative. Afterwards, aye, there are people you can share your grief with but that sort of thing doesn’t prevent deaths from happening.

“You take the north west… it has the highest suicide rate for young people. From the time my son died, you take how many people who have died in Lifford, Strabane, Derry and Omagh. There have been so many.

“There’s a lot of pressure on young people now. They’re under pressure at school. People would say they can talk to their teacher, but teachers aren’t counsellors.

“You need a centre in the town, which is manned 24 hours a day.

“The young fella wrote that people need help. But that help isn’t here.”

The heartbroken father says he and his family live every day with the reality that Barney’s death could have been prevented. However he also admits that he is not hopeful about government funding becoming available for drop-in facilities any time soon.

“When you’re suicidal you can’t see anything,” he continued. “The only way out is death. You don’t think about what you’re leaving behind and how much grief you’re going to cause. They see only one way out. And that’s why they need someone to talk to.

“He didn’t say why he was doing it. He just said, get help. The exact words he used in the letter was ‘get help.’ But ten years on and there’s still no help there.

“He was a lovely young fella. He was a great man for hurling. He played for Shamrocks and he played for Tyrone minors. He was the last person you ever thought would do something like that. There was no sign. It was out of the blue.

“People say to me, ‘why?’ But there’s only one person who’ll know the answer to that and that’s him.”

He added, “I think it could have been something he was thinking of but it’s hard to know.”

Mr McGee says he is currently considering hold a benefit concert in Strabane sometime in the New Year, with any monies raised going towards to a suicide awareness charity.

Referring to the drop-in facility concept, he continued, “I would like to see something in this town and even in the likes of Derry and Omagh. You’d need a centre in each town that people can go to. It would save lives. But it’s the getting the funding. The government won’t fund it, not with the way they’re cutting the National Health Service at the minute.

“I’d be afraid that it’ll never happen because it’s not going to be funded.”
 
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The Strabane Chronicle is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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