By Aaron Vallely
Pieta House, Ireland's leading non-profit organization that prevents suicide and self-harm with its free therapy service, had its first public meeting in the Bronx, on Friday.
Joan Freeman, founder and CEO of Pieta House Inc., gave a presentation in Gaelic Park and answered questions from members of the community.
Pieta's 10th center, and first U.S. center, opened several weeks ago in Queens. After reviewing an invitation by the New York Irish Center to collaborate and share their building in Queens, Freeman decided it was time the community in New York was included within the services of Pieta House.
Freeman described the stigma, secrecy and judgmental culture surrounding suicide and mental illness, and declared her ambition to instigate "the biggest campaign movement on suicide New York has ever seen."
The life-saving, free-of-charge service is confidential and open to people of all ages and from all backgrounds, and had already had some clients by the time of the launch in the Bronx. Freeman presented a video about "Darkness Into Light," the flagship fundraising and awareness event for Pieta House, in which hundreds of thousands of people gather and walk together to raise awareness and fight suicide.
"Darkness into Light" was brought to New York at the initiative of Rebecca Skedd from the New York Irish Center, where she has now been recruited as a staff member for Pieta's award-winning service.
Pieta will hold its first free public “Mind Ur Buddy” workshop - which aims to inform people about recognizing the symptoms of suicide - in January. It will focus on people becoming more vigilant of their colleagues, fellow club members and students and their mental wellbeing. The acronym S-I-G-N-S is used to articulate the symptoms. Sleep-Deprivation, Isolation, Giving Away Possessions, No Interest In Anything, and Seeing No Future.
Freeman, who herself lost a sister to suicide, says the message we should give to those in distress is, "I will fight your fight, especially when we cannot fight ourselves." It is time we are more honest about ourselves and how we feel, she said.
Freeman revealed a story about a mother who was told that her son was in a bad mental state by someone concerned who had informed Pieta. The mother replied that, in fact, this was not the case. When Pieta contacted the parent again, and after she eventually agreed to bring her son in to the service, they found he was already self-harming and suicidal. That young man is now back on the road to recovery thanks to the service. Pieta House is continuing to save lives.
Paddy Galway, vice chairman of the local GAA, told attendees that the GAA has pledged to give the service its full backing. "Even if one life is saved," said Galway, "then that is a success.”
For more information, contact Pieta House at the New York Irish Center on (718) 482-0909, or visit the website at http://www.pieta.ie.