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Teacher sets up support group after loss of "inspirational" dad

By Tracy Carmichael

A teacher who faced heartache after the loss of her beloved dad has been spurred on to launch a support group to help others.

Ciara Duddy was left heartbroken after the sudden death of her father, Christopher, just eight months ago.

She says the isolation of the coronavirus pandemic, which forced people away from family and friends, was the final straw for her lorry driver dad who fought a long-term battle with mental health issues.

And she has found strength in numbers after founding the 'Walk Lighter' group for those affected by suicide in Renfrewshire.

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Teacher Ciara is still coming to terms with the loss of the 53-year-old - who suffered from bi-polar disorder - but the hardest part she says, was the reaction of people who found out her father committed suicide.

She told the Express of her fight to come to terms with her father's death, saying: "I'm originally from Ireland but live and work in Paisley, I went back home for the funeral and then came back to Paisley and I think that's when it really hit me, I had no family around me, I have a really good network of friends and my partner but I still didn't have family around.

"Anytime the word suicide was mentioned, I could see people turn the other way and look uncomfortable, they don't know how to handle it and I found really, really tough."

The experience led Ciara, originally from County Armagh in Northern Ireland, to seek support, but that was also challenging, she says: "I couldn't find the kind of support I felt I needed. I felt I needed a community approach.

"There were things available but they were mostly time-limited, like for six week periods, via Zoom or quite formal."

The 28-year-old said the personal experience of being touched by suicide, led her to look for support from other who had gone through the experience, she added: "Even the language surrounding a death when someone takes their own life is difficult, they committed suicide. I've had family losses but suicide just feels completely different.

"It's that sort of burden of guilt, it's very overwhelming."

Ciara, who has lived in Scotland for ten years, said her father had battled his illness "pretty much all of her life", but said he was frank about his battle and spurred her on to action, telling the Express: "My dad was incredibly open on his struggles. I want to carry on that legacy because he was so open.

"It has given me the courage because I was very closed off before and wouldn't have spoken about things like this but I feel it's good to speak out.

"If it only helps one person, it will be worth it."

But Ciara says the pandemic sparked a decline in her dad, who lived in England, saying: "I think he just felt really alone. I think the pandemic had a bearing on it, just not being able to see his family. A lot of people who have come together, the people they have lost has mostly been during Covid.

"There were times when he was really low and he couldn't come."

The covid pandemic has been credited with taking its toll on the nation's mental health.

Government figures dating back to May 2020 showed 48 per cent of adults said their wellbeing had been affected during the pandemic - rising to 51 per cent amongst those with an underlying health issue.

Some 63 per cent of adults said they felt stressed or anxious, according to the data from the Office for National Statistics.

Mental health charities have also reported that millions of people struggled with loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic, which saw the nation face tough restrictions on movement and freedoms.

Ciara's dad eventually came to stay with her for a spell in Paisley, but she says a "lack of urgency" amongst services held back his progress.

The grieving daughter continued: "I felt there wasn't much help because he was up here but he didn't live here.

"If you contact your doctor and you are saying someone is suicidal and they are not really responding to it in the way they would if someone was in a car crash for example, it's not that immediate.

"I felt a wee bit let down, I was a young girl, calling for help for my dad and I felt like they couldn't get me off the phone quick enough, they said he should be going to his own doctor.

"The doctor phoned and spoke to him but he just went on the phone and said he was fine. He was bi-polar, he knew exactly what to say and he obviously didn't want to say anything in front of me."

Sadly, Ciara's dad killed himself six weeks after he returned home from his stay, on September 21 last year.

But she has found some solace in the members of Walk Lighter Glasgow, who turn out at Barshaw Park.

She said: "It's just a chance for people who have had a similar experience to meet up and talk to others who understand what they're going through.

"I'm not a counsellor or a therapist, it's just people getting together, We go for a walk around the park, have a coffee after it, people can talk about their person if they want and sometimes there are tears.

"We have a Whatsapp group as well, so people can talk and meet up for lunch."

Ciara has also been posting positive messages on her Facebook page to make May's role as Mental Health Awareness Month.

The group will also have an outing to walk Conic Hill on Loch Lomondside on Saturday May 21, as part of a bid to promote mental health awareness and suicide prevention.

Further information is available on Instagram at @walklighterglasgow or via Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/walklighterglasgow

Download the FREE Renfrewshire Live app now for all the latest news, features and sport in your area. Available on both Android and Apple. Download here: smarturl.it/RenfrewLiveSocial

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