A new group has been set up by five people dedicated to tackling the issue of suicide in Northern Ireland and providing support to those at risk.
Mark Evison spoke to BAM about how the idea began and their hopes for the future of the group.
“Big Bro came about through a conversation with tattoo artist, Darren Livingstone. I was telling him about another project I was thinking of doing and he asked if I fancied doing something with The Arts involved. By the Sunday we had a Facebook page called Big Bro Belfast and on the Monday we had three more people join the group: Sam O’Neill (photographer), Micky Ferrin (artist) and Ciara Dornan (artist).”
Several volunteers have also offered up their time to help Big Bro Belfast and there is a fantastic combination of creative input in the project.
“Our aims are straightforward enough.” Mark said. “We just want a small place where people can come and get away from their demons, even if it’s only for an hour or two. We’re “Hear “To Listen. If people don’t want to talk that’s cool too. There will be various art and craft things for them to do.”
Big Bro Belfast is committed to openly addressing the issue of suicide and, sadly, this is something that is very much needed here in Northern Ireland.
Mark said: “Our original conversation came about because of the five kids who took their lives in Northern Ireland over a weekend period, the oldest being just 18. We were disgusted at the lack of education for people who suffer from suicidal tendencies or mental health problems. If someone is having a really bad day we will point them in the right direction or take them to whatever organisation that can help further.”
“There are very few places to go for people of all ages to escape the everyday pressures. Suicide Awareness P. I. P. S and various other organisations are having their funding cut. Meanwhile the politicians at Stormont only care about their astronomical wages bonuses that are not earned and outdated religious bigotries. Community organisations need help, they need funding. Who cares if it’s Twinbrook or The Shankill? It’s no coincidence that Belfast has the highest suicide rates in Britain.”
Mark’s words highlight the desperate need for government support of mental health charities and projects. But where those in power may be failing, every day people like Mark, Sam, Darren, Micky, Ciara and their volunteers are taking real steps to make massive changes in the lives of those in need.
“We had a drawing group in April at Sink the Drink on Castle Street. On the Sunday we organised a walk around Divis mountain. Other events planned include creative writing sessions, camera walks, guitar lessons…and if there is nothing to suit, tell us and we’ll do our best to make it happen.” he said.
It is these small actions that can have the most life-changing effects. Those who have battled their own life-threatening demons are often the most understanding and supportive of others.
Mark said: “Having suffered from suicidal tendencies and other forms of mental health illness, my advice is simple…DON’T BE AFRAID TO TALK. If your parents or friends won’t listen, go to Lifeline, Suicide Awareness or P. I.P.S. The people that work there are non-judgmental and will help in every way possible. If the person is still unsure they can contact Big Bro, come down here and relax, and I’ll go with them.”
Isolation and the fear of not being understood is a key risk factor when it comes to suicidal thoughts. Education is essential and it is time to stop ignoring mental illnesses simply because they are not always physically visible.
“I can only say this to families: Whatever is going on in a loved one’s head, just listen. You may not understand and that’s okay but to show compassion and love can sometimes make a big difference. Then phone one of the organisations mentioned and they will help you.
“The stigma that suicide is a selfish act is a statement of ignorance. I lost my whole family after my second attempt on my life because they couldn’t get that out their heads, not that I was suffering but that I was ‘selfish’. Not sharing a packet of crisps with your best mate is selfish, don’t let that happen to your loved ones. I live on my own now. This affliction, this illness, destroys families and communities alike. You only need to look at those five losses of life over one weekend to see the devastation it caused.”
If you need support or would like to contribute to Big Bro Belfast’s future projects, see their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Big-Bro-Belfast or call 0734237955
Lifeline 0808 808 8000