A Co Tyrone mum who set up a suicide prevention charity following the death of her daughter 18 years ago says the need for its services has never been greater in the local area.
Catherine McBennett set up the Niamh Louise Foundation in 2005 following the death of her daughter Niamh by suicide at the age of 15. The charity provides support to those affected by suicide in the local area and beyond.
Catherine says over 200 people have now been coming through the doors of its Dungannon centre every month.
She added that seven local families in the Co Tyrone area recently bereaved by suicide have come to the charity to seek advice in the last six months, when on average they would see two per year.
“In September 2020, after months of lockdown, we started to see the increase in young people, aged 12-16, coming to the Niamh Louise Foundation,” Catherine told Belfast Live.
“From September 2020 to September 2021, we saw a 40 per cent increase in young people using our services because they were suffering such high levels of anxiety.
“Since December 2022, right up until today, May 17, I have seen seven new families bereaved by suicide. It’s extremely worrying that the age group of most concern are those aged between 14 and 16-years-old.
“There are so many pressures in life for men, women, children, teenagers, adults, regardless of age, mental health concerns can affect anyone.
“The youngest person The Niamh Louise Foundation has had through its doors is a six-year-old. The oldest is in their 60s.”
Opening up on her own bereavement, Catherine says while the pain she experienced has subsided over time, she will never go back to what was ‘normal’ before.
“When I lost my daughter Niamh I had no idea what to do, where to go for help, how to understand what had happened, why I lost her and I certainly was not aware of the amount of grieving families who had been through the same trauma,” Catherine says.
“It’s 18 years now and I would have to say by helping others, it helps you recover.
“But no, the pain I experienced 18 years ago thankfully is not as raw. You never forget.
“You never forget your loved one, Niamh is talked about every single day at home and within the charity.
“Her legacy still lives on, but I can reassure families bereaved that the pain you are experiencing is deep and intense, but through time by talking you can recover to a new normal.
“You’ll not be the same way that you were before your loved one died, but you can recover and live a new different life.”
Speaking during Mental Health Awareness Week, Catherine called on politicians, campaigners and the public to do more to address the stigma of suicide.
In April alone, 211 people visited the Niamh Louise Foundation, with 54 of those under the age of 25.
“The reality is, no-one knows if, or when, mental health issues come knocking on anyone’s door.
“And when it does, a family is thrown into absolute turmoil they are likely to never have experienced before and that is a very hard thing to cope with. I knew I had to do something to honour Niamh’s memory by helping other people.
“Fast forward to 2023 and I see willingness but not much has changed in terms of people being offered real and meaningful support.
“If there’s one message I want to portray, it’s for those in power to do what they can to help us save lives.
“Together, we can advocate for change, we need to talk more openly about anxiety, which is the theme of this year’s campaign, and we can be the leading light together.”