Niamh Louise charity brought ‘flash of light’ to Tyrone mother who lost son to suicide

Assembly Health Minister, Michelle O'Neill, poses for photos with committee members from the Niamh Louise Foundation, including founder members James and Catherine McBennett.
Assembly Health Minister, Michelle O'Neill, poses for photos with committee members from the Niamh Louise Foundation, including founder members James and Catherine McBennett.

A Ballygawley mother, who lost her son to suicide when he was just 17, has told how the Niamh Louise Foundation charity became a “flash of light in a dark tunnel” for her family during their toughest days.

Suzanne Cooper was speaking as the organisation - which provides suicide prevention and awareness services and other support facilities to around 170 people every month from its base in Dungannon - launched its Strategic Plan for 2016 to 2020.

Suzanne Cooper from Ballygawley addresses the assembled guests at the launch of the Niamh Louise Foundation's Strategic Plan 2016-2020

Suzanne Cooper from Ballygawley addresses the assembled guests at the launch of the Niamh Louise Foundation's Strategic Plan 2016-2020

The charity’s plan of action, entitled Suicide is your Business, was unveiled at Palace Demesne in Armagh, with the newly appointed Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill, travelling to the event in her first official engagement in the role.

The Minister said mental health was one of the priority issues she was keen to “get stuck into” as she tackled the substantial workload which awaits her.

Mayor of Armagh, Cllr Darren Causby, said the stigma still associated with mental health and suicide in particular was “unhelpful and unnecessary”, and reflected on how his own family and friends had experienced problems with their emotional wellbeing.

Shockingly, the Portadown councillor, who has a background in youth work, said he knew of children as young as 11 years old requiring counselling treatment for self-harm.

Niamh Louise Foundation Committee Members Anne Donaghy and Colin Cooper receive tokens of appreciation. Pictured with Chair of the charity, Dr Alan Turtle (centre)

Niamh Louise Foundation Committee Members Anne Donaghy and Colin Cooper receive tokens of appreciation. Pictured with Chair of the charity, Dr Alan Turtle (centre)

Chairman of the Niamh Louise Foundation, Dr Alan Turtle, said the new strategic plan had been designed using feedback and research from the community sector and medical profession, and described the statistic of 300 deaths to suicide across Northern Ireland every year as “unacceptable”.

Speaking to the TIMES, Dr Turtle said the Niamh Louise Foundation was “very grateful” to Michelle O’Neill for attending the event, as well as for her “input and interest” towards the organisation since its formation ten years ago.

The charity’s Chairman continued: “Unfortunately the statutory services don’t deal as adequately as they should with mental health issues and with suicide particularly, because they do not have either the time or the resources. We will be working to see that change.”

That message was echoed by James McBennett, one of the charity’s founders, who said: “The medical model of suicide prevention alone does not go far enough to do the work that needs to be done.”

James McBennett, one of the charity's founders, speaks to the guests at Palace Demesne

James McBennett, one of the charity's founders, speaks to the guests at Palace Demesne

The most powerful testimony of the day came from Suzanne Cooper, who told how the Niamh Louise Foundation has helped her and her family following the tragic loss of their son Matthew in 2013.

Addressing the assembled guests, who included teachers from St Patrick’s College Dungannon and St Catherine’s College in Armagh, Mrs Cooper explained: “The Niamh Louise Foundation became a flash of light in a dark tunnel when we lost our son Matthew to suicide three years ago.”

Suzanne told how the charity’s Wellbeing and Recovery Group had been “a lifeline” to her, adding: “I have found the confidence to return to part-time work and engage in my community thanks to them.”

The event was also addressed by one of the charity’s service users, Siobhan, who sought help for her teenage daughter when she discovered that she had been self-harming.

Niamh Louise Foundation volunteers with newly appointed Health Minister Michelle O'Neill

Niamh Louise Foundation volunteers with newly appointed Health Minister Michelle O'Neill

The charity’s action plan pulls together ten years of learning and experience from the committed and dedicated committee members, staff and volunteers and sets out key aims and objectives for delivering the service.

These aims are far-reaching: de-stigmatisation of suicide, development of training and educational programmes, raising suicide high on the Northern Ireland political agenda, encouraging more community volunteers and providing a safe place for those at risk of suicide or self-harm and those bereaved by suicide to help them reach a place of recovery and wellbeing.

Email info@niamhlouisefoundation.com or telephone 87753327 if you need to speak to someone about the services provided.