By Laura Lynott @Ly211
A WOMAN who was suicidal and pulled back from the brink – is helping herself and others heal with a team set up with the friend who “saved” her – and together they have saved 15 lives in just four months.
Caitriona McMahon, 31, from Askeaton, Co Limerick set up the Community Crisis Response Team with just “a second hand phone and Facebook account,” with the woman she credits with helping “save my life,” the group’s co-founder, Kayla Cooley.
In just four short months the friends and a group of volunteers have saved 15 lives simply by caring and putting that in to action – calling to homes and even waterways, talking to those in need and getting them professional support.
“We both have personal reasons for doing this,” Caitriona said. “I’ve been suicidal myself in the past and know what it is like to go to the bottom and I found my way back.
“Others can too and that’s what we want to help them start to do.”
Caitriona admits being part of the group has actually acted as continuing “therapy” for her as she helps others overcome their inner demons, just like she did.
“I was very lucky in the support that I got when I was going through this. Kayla was a great help to me and my family.
“She noticed I wasn’t my normal self. She asked me what was going on and took me to the GP. The woman who set this up with me actually saved my life.
“She saw something was wrong. For me it was about having negative thoughts. I felt I was doing things wrong and I was carrying it 24-7. It really wore me down, and I wasn’t sleeping on top of it.”
Caitriona suffered depression and anxiety – a battle she is still fighting with support – and she actually made up her mind she would take her life in 2012 – but Kayla helped her tell her family and get the support she needed.
Kayla, 24, said: “If it was me in Caitriona’s shoes she’d have done it for me.
“I knew Caitriona had developed depression and I tried my best to be there for her but when it changed to something different, I could see it wasn’t depression anymore – it was really concerning.
“She was angry and isolating herself and didn’t want to talk to anyone, not even me – I finally managed to get her to get help but it wasn’t easy. It came after a few rows.”
Now, because Caitriona has lived through such dark times, she feels “complete empathy” for every person she helps.
The group operates across West Limerick, taking phone calls from 5pm until 6am every day to offer a service when others are not available.
They also run a Facebook page, where they receive messages and a Twitter account. They plan to eventually roll the service out nationally.
The volunteers – trained by the HSE in dealing with those who are suicidal – have even helped people in England and Scotland via Facebook messenger.
Caitriona told how one man got in touch from England “but we didn’t know his address to get him help.”
The volunteers managed to make the man feel at ease and bit by bit got information from him on where he lived.
Despite being hundreds of miles from him and the sea dividing them – the women were able to send help to his house locally.
“We get people calling us, people on Facebook messenger, locally and from the UK and Scotland too, which shocked us,” Caitriona said.
“It’s a strange situation because we can’t see them or talk over the phone but we are trained to listen and that’s what we do.
“We get calls from those with financial worries. The economic situation in Ireland has been a big part of it. Some people are not able to afford rent or afford to pay for their mortgage.
“Most situations that drive someone to feel suicidal are about loss or change – the loss of a job, or anything a person is attached to, the loss of a loved one, change to the family situation.”
The CCRT is the only service available that calls out to people’s homes – talking to those who are feeling suicidal, comforting them and staying until a Suicide Action Plan is firmly in place.
Kayla said: “I’m doing this because I have a lot of experience in community development and I saw a massive need for a group to travel out to people. There was no group where you to go the person in need.
“There’s also a massive gap in services. A lot of services tend to operate in the day and once 5pm comes, they are closed.”
Since opening they have never received a cent of state funding.
Friends and family have raised some funding through raffles and currently they operate from a kitchen table taking calls and answering messages.
They drive their own cars, paying for their own fuel and they vow they will be there for anyone who needs them 365 days a year.
However, Caitriona admits she is angered that €12 million of the €35 million ring-fenced for mental health last year across the state, is to be diverted to other health service resources.
“We need funding so badly to do what we do. We want a base for people who are feeling suicidal, or who need to talk, to come to as well as us going to see them.
“Not everyone wants to invite us in to their home. And we need funding for water equipment for when we attend scenes of someone beside water.
“If I thought too much about the cuts, I couldn’t get out of bed, so Kayla, and I, the rest of the group, will just keep on doing what we can do.”
The group are contactable through the Community Crisis Response Team Facebook page, on Twitter via @CCRTLIM or on the CCRT Crisis Line on 085 1777 631.