5 Questions with Joan Freeman of Pieta House

Jona FreemanElectric Ireland is Sponsoring the Pieta House ‘Darkness Into Light’ walk this weekend. It’s a 5km walk/run to help raise vital funds for self harm and suicide prevention. Starting at 4am in the morning around 20 locations throughout Ireland, it finishes as the dawn is breaking. It’s a beautiful walk, as people walk in solidarity from darkness into light to help bring hope and confidence to people in crisis. This year we’re expecting over 16,000 people to participate.

We talked to a remarkable lady, Joan Freeman, the founder of Pieta House about the Pieta House model being used internationally, the signs and language of suicide and how she won’t stop until there is a centre within 100km of every person in Ireland.

1. Tell us a little about Pieta House?

Pieta House offers a unique service providing one to one, face to face counselling service to people who have attempted suicide and survived or those who have a strong urge to take their lives, so we’re at the crisis point in people’s live and our job is to get them through the crisis and help them get on with their lives as normal..
The first centre was set up in Lucan in Dublin in 2006 and there are now centres in Tallaght, Ballyfermot, Finglas, Limerick and one in Tipperary which we opened just last week.

2. What have been the biggest challenges you have faced?

Space- we have this policy that we respond to demand, which is very hard to manage. There is no such thing as budget when people’s lives are in danger. So we took the admin out of Pieta House, rented out offices down the road and created 90 more counselling hours. We’re in same predicament again, centres are overflowing, we have a waiting list of 112 people and we’re just trying create new houses around the city to try and respond to the waiting list.

3. Have you seen an increase in the number attending the centres in the past few years as a result of the recession?

We have seen an increase of 42% of people attending the centres in the past year. This has a lot to do with the tough times we face, but also because people are more willing to go and look for help.

4. I believe the Pieta House model is getting international recognition

Yes, I spoke at a conference in America last week on the Pieta House model. Americans have a very clinical approach to suicide intervention, where we would have a more compassionate and emotional response and see it for exactly what it is, that the crisis can be temporary. The person doesn’t need to be stigmatised with getting help, if it’s psychiatric help you’re getting, it’s on your file, which is very off putting. Our model is effective, their self esteem is raised after coming here, they feel more confident in themselves and the suicide ideation has been lifted.

5. What are the three takeaway messages for people reading this blog?


1. Mind Your Men

We’re trying to concentrate on men this year and this is why we created the initiative- ‘Mind Your Men’. The reason why is that men won’t ask for help. 46% of the people coming to the centres are men, but when we did a deeper analysis of this, we discovered that is was the women that made the appointments for them. This reflects the behaviour of women right across the country where women will make the GP appointment, the dental appointment or encourage the men to seek help. This is the natural occurrence of women to look after the care of the men in our lives. So if men won’t ask for help, we would ask that the women look out for their men. The men will provide care and protection for everyone else but not themselves, so people around them should look out for them, to Mind Our Men.

2. People should know the sign and language of suicide to help protect their family and friends.

  • Disturbed or broken sleep or not sleeping at all. This can be a very dangerous thing to happen. You know what it’s like when you have one night’s bad sleep, the world is a very different place. When this is happening over a continuous period of time, everything changes physically, mentally and emotionally.
  • They stop being sociable, they become more isolated. They even often turn off their mobile phone or sign off Facebook.
  • Their eating habits change, they often drink more and sometimes they often give away their possessions.
  • The most important thing is the language of suicide- they start speaking about ‘seeing no point to life’, ‘no light at the end of the tunnel’, their family would be better off without them. These are very strong signals that the person is in distress.

3. Reduce male suicide, county by county

We will have three more centres by the end of the year, but my personal aim is to reduce male suicide. We can only do this county by county. At the end of the year will be servicing 20 counties but my aim is to have a centre within 100km of every person in Ireland.

Below is a very moving video of Phoenix Park Darkness into Light walk.