On the 7th of December, I returned from a family holiday in the United States of America after a fourteen hour journey.
Despite early onset of jet lag, I was pleased to have got home just in time to get to see my beloved football team, Carrick Rangers, take on Institute in the Danske Bank Premiership.
The first half was lethargic, though Carrick took a 1-0 lead into the break. The second period, however, proved much more entertaining as young wing-back Jerry Thompson put in a man-of-the match performance to drive his team towards a 3-0 win. His positive attitude, pace, power and skill were something I had become accustomed to since he broke into the team earlier in the season.
The Thompson-inspired win created a safety net between the two sides fighting against relegation. The players and fans were on a real high. This was what Saturday’s should be about.
What a difference a week makes
One week later, I was again watching Jerry. Only this time, it was to see the 24-year old’s coffin carried into the Sacred Heart Church in Belfast.
The Tuesday evening before, Jerry has taken his own life. The latest young man to complete suicide in the capital city.
Looking in from the outside, Jerry seemed to have so much going for him. As well as his footballing prowess, he had a supportive and loving family. He had become a father six months ago. He had a wide circle of friends, a few of whom were regulars at Carrick matches telling anyone in earshot how proud they were to be cheering Jerry on from the stands.
Those same friends joined a hundred more in Sacred Heart Church, along with Jerry’s family and dozens from the wider football circle to say their final farewells. Jerry’s Carrick Rangers team mates formed a guard of honour as he was taken from the Church, and they then carried his coffin along the Oldpark Road to the waiting hearse.
I don’t know what demons Jerry was battling, but it’s tragic to think that he lost his fight with them. I can’t imagine how hard it is for his family, girlfriend and friends.
A stranger, yet a friend
Jerry’s death has affected me more than I can ever have imagined. And yet, I never exchanged any words with him or spent any time in his company. I simply cheered him on from the pitchside. I have come to realise over the last week how, through being part of the football club I support, he became part of my extended “family.”
This will sound clichéd, but there is something quite special about Carrick Rangers Football Club. It forms closer bonds between all those connected to it than most other clubs. It is a close-knit group, sharing success and adversity together. Jerry was, and will forever remain, part of this.
Life can be tough
I understand that life can be very difficult at times. We all make poor decisions or mistakes. We endure the loss of a family member of someone close to us. There are times when we may have a deterioration in our health. Relationships can be strained or broken. Losing a job, or failing to find a new one can put strain on us financially and emotionally. There seems to be no limit to the number of circumstances that can crop up and cause anguish.
I find it frightening that sometimes facing those problems can be so overwhelming that it triggers suicidal thoughts. It is truly heart breaking to think that so many young men, in particular, go beyond those thoughts and put them into action.
Northern Ireland has the highest suicide rate in the United Kingdom, and ranks in the top 15 in the world, with an average of five deaths per week. Yet less than 70% of those who die are known to mental health services.
Too little too late
There have been several suicide prevention initiatives, the most recent Protect Life 2 suicide prevention strategy published by the Department of Health a couple of months ago. However, despite best intentions, it does seem that the impact of previous interventions has been weak and ineffective.
The bottom line is that there is insufficient funding for adequate support services. The voluntary and community sector is relying on donations and fundraising to offer help where they can, but it is nowhere near enough.
Jerry’s tragic death has re-highlighted the suicide epidemic in Northern Ireland. We cannot allow this to slip back into a form of complacency. Government has a duty to provide the mental health support our young people deserve.
If you want to find out more about the advice and support currently available, please visit this website: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/mental-health-emergency-if-youre-crisis-or-despair