Co-ordinator of SOSAD Dundalk, Hattie Billingham
As people struggle to cope with the immense impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their lives SOSAD in Dundalk has seen a significant increase of those reaching out to them for help.
The devastating effect of the coronavirus pandemic left people isolated in their homes during lockdown without much needed contact with family and friends, trapped in houses where they suffered at the hands of violence and saw many lose their jobs leaving them struggling to pay their bills.
For those suffering from mental health issues before the pandemic gripped the country the situation was extremely difficult to cope with, while others who had not suffered from mental health problems before the lockdown were also left struggling to deal with the stress and anxiety of a society upended by the virus.
And many in need of support and help during these difficult times turned to SOSAD (Save Our Sons and Daughters) in Dundalk, which has worked tirelessly in our communities since 2007 to raise awareness, help prevent suicide and ensure people know they are not alone and provide bereavement support.
The coordinator of SOSAD Dundalk, Hattie Billingham, speaking to the Dundalk Democrat on the week of World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th, said: “It is very brave of people to reach out for help and support when they need it and we are proud that people trust us to do that.”
Hattie said they were able to keep all their support services running throughout the lockdown with the volunteers working remotely.
“So many families in our communities have been touched by suicide, there is probably not a person out there that has not been touched by suicide, losing a family member or friend”, she said.
“The 24-hour helpline was still available the whole way through lockdown.
“SOSAD in Dundalk has 70 regular clients that come to us weekly for counselling.
“During lockdown we were able to keep those counselling sessions going virtually through video, zoom and phone calls.
“We managed to keep all our support systems in place for our clients that needed it even more than ever during lockdown.
“There were two sides to the issues that arose for people and their mental health problems during lockdown.
“The first was the isolation of the situation for people who lived by themselves and didn’t have as much contact with people due to the restrictions and needed some extra added support.
“On the other hand, there were people that were stuck at home living in situations that weren’t safe.
“We ensured that the support and help we offer was there for them during the lockdown.”
Hattie said that the local SOSAD had an increase of people contacting their 24-hour helpline during the lockdown as they struggled with the situation, but there has been an even more significant rise in people reaching out to them for help as the restrictions ease as the effect of the pandemic is “really starting to hit people”.
They re-opened their facilities for face to face counselling on July 20th.
“There was an increase in people contacting us and our 24-hour helpline for support during lockdown, especially people presenting with anxiety over the situation”, she said.
“We noticed the trend of a rise in people reaching out to us after an announcement by the Government about the restrictions as people were suffering from anxiety.
“We have been even busier since the lockdown restrictions have being eased.
“At this time of year, we would be reasonably quiet as people are busy doing things like getting their children settled back into school.
“But we are a lot busier now with our client intake increasing to the extent that we have brought in new counsellors to help meet the demand for support and help from people.
“The situation is starting to really hit people now as they struggle to cope with stress about everything that is happening to their lives due to Covid-19.
“People who lost their jobs during the lockdown can cope with being out of work for the first couple of months but as it goes on longer it is harder to deal with it.
“People are being told that in the current situation we are running a marathon, but people are running out of steam and energy and are finding it increasingly hard to handle it.
“There are so many reasons why people suffer from mental health issues that I could not possibly pinpoint one reason that has resulted in an increase of mental health issues and suicides.
“However, one of the reasons there has been a rise of people suffering mental health issues is linked to the lockdown and how the coronavirus has affected people’s lives.
“People are feeling stressed and anxious about the situation and fearful of the unknown.
“There are people who have not suffered from mental health problems before that are now as they struggle with what is happening.
“And those who already have depression or suffer from other mental health problems are struggling as it is all proving too much for them.”
Apart from the coordinator position everyone working for SOSAD in Dundalk are volunteers who Hattie says are “worth their weight in gold”.
There are 13 volunteer administrators, four volunteer support workers who offer extra support to clients in between counselling, five suicide prevention officers to man the helpline voluntarily, and 20 volunteer counsellors.
The local SOSAD has seen the number of clients they support double in the last eighteen months.
Hattie said: “We are delighted that we are providing support for people and they are availing of the services we have available.
“It is very brave to reach out and we are proud that people trust us to do that.
The SOSAD helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by contacting 042 9327311.
Anyone who wishes to donate to SOSAD can do so online or in their Dundalk office on Jocelyn Street.