Light Out of Darkness

Last November I was in Singapore speaking at a Conference on Rewards at Work. The aim of the conference was how best to retain what are termed ‘highly engaged staff.’ Staff retention is quite a challenge for many American and European companies and the Human Resources departments of these companies devise complex reward packages for staff members who are successful (think one million euro bonuses!). What was interesting is that few of the companies appreciated that the most powerful means of gaining staff loyalty is the enhancement of relationship – where the positive culture of the workplace comes out to meet you at its gates. There were several Japanese business people at the conference and they boasted that in Japan that they had no staff retention problems and had no need to resort to expensive incentive packages! However, when I pointed out that they have the highest suicide rate in the world, there was an ‘intake of breath’ silence. One of the Japanese entrepreneurs remarked to me that ‘yes, they have some 30,000 suicides in a year’ but given the size of the population that these figures were not that high. My response was that statistics mask the tragic reality that it is an individual that takes his or her life and leaves family members to pick up the pieces of what was often undetected inner emotional turmoil. When viewed this way, even one person taking his or her life is one too much!

In Ireland, for the ninth consecutive year there have been more individuals taking their own precious lives than the number of lives lost due to road vehicle accidents. Over the three most recent years with complete statistical data (2003-2005) there have been 50% more deaths due to suicide than road vehicle accidents. It continues to be the case that young men (under 35) are the individuals who are at serious risk of suicide – as well as road accidents. Sight, though, must not be lost that teenage girls and young women attempt suicide five to seven times more than young men – a reality that does not even remotely receive adequate attention. Research consistently shows that the vast majority of young people who self-harm do not come to the attention of health services.

The recent three programmes on RTE 1 ‘I See a Darkness’ offered a sensitive, intimate and revealing insight not only into the inner turmoil of those who take or attempt to take their lives, but also into the shock, confusion, grief, guilt and misery for those family members and spouses left behind. Alan Gilsenan, the Director of the series said that the aim of the programme was ‘to pen up some sort of national conversation about suicide --- small chats in kitchens and sitting rooms, quiet discussion in offices or pubs across the country. In the small conversations, hopefully, lie the seeds of knowledge and prevention, of healing and hope.’ We need more programmes like this to provide the permission and safety to dare speak the unspeakable. A verse of a poem by David Whyte echoes the aims set out by Alan Gilsenan:

Start close in,

don’t take the second step

or the third,

start with the first


close in,

the step

you don’t want to take.

An important 2-day conference on Working with the Suicidal Client is to be held at the Silversprings Hotel, Cork on May 9th and 10th. The conference is a clinical training opportunity for Counsellors, Psychologists and other health professional working directly with suicidal and suicide bereaved individuals. Individuals who are in the darkness of despair need the help of Counsellors, Psychotherapists and others, who understand themselves and who are in a solid and informed place to respond to what are often the overwhelming needs of individuals who are suicidal and those who are bereaved, as well as families, classrooms, schools, workplaces and communities. The aim of the conference is to equip those attending with such understanding and therapeutic skills.

The Conference is organised by the Southern Branch of the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP) in association with the Irish Association of Suicidology (IAS). The Keynote speaker is David A. Jobes, Professor of Psychology and Co-Director of Clinical Training in the Catholic University of America. Dr. Jobes is an expert on assessment, treatment and clinical management of individuals who are suicidal. There are also several Irish speakers. Details of the Conference are on,ie and or phone bookings to IACP 01-2723427.