‘Talk about your mental health because it does work’

By Lesley Walsh

A SEVENTH public bench aimed at raising suicide awareness has been installed in the memory of a councillor who worked tirelessly to combat the issue.

The late Jimmy Menagh was a member of Ards Suicide Awareness Group which was formed following the suicides of two young men in Newtownards in 2014 and 2015.

One of its founder members, Rev. Stephen Doherty, of St. Mark’s Parish Church of Ireland, said the group came together to unite against the scourge of suicide.

He was prompted to act after the mother of one of the young men, the late Trish Connor, appealed to him that something had to be done to stop people taking their own lives. 

Rev. Doherty said the latest bench was dedicated at Ards Football Club in memory of Mr Menagh, a committed and passionate advocate for suicide awareness raising. 

It is the seventh bench to be commissioned by the group, which was paid for by fundraising and designed and created by Belfast Metal Design.

The benches feature hands reaching out to form a heart shape, and bear messages like, ’It’s OK to talk – reach out, speak up’; ‘In loving memory of Big Mac’ and ‘In loving memory of lost loved ones’.

So far, benches have been installed in the Glen and Scrabo estates, two in the West Winds, another at Queen’s Street, with the location of another still to be finalised.

“It’s all about raising the profile of mental health and suicide awareness and breaking down the stigma attached to it,” said Rev. Doherty. 

“It’s about empowering the community to support one another as best we can.”

He added that it was great to see them being used within the community.

“It’s great when you drive around the estates and see people using with, and with respect too,” he added.

The group membership also includes Strangford MLA Mike Nesbitt and Ards and North Down councillor Steven Irvine, and locals Jonny and Amanda Tate and Nichola Totton.

Mr Irvine, who is also chairman of Greenwell Star football club was co-opted on to the committee following the death of Mr Menagh, to fill the vacant spot. 

Speaking of the group, he said: “It’s an absolutely brilliant idea. It helps to fight the stigma of suicide, especially among young men. 

“Before, in my own football club, mental health was never talked about. Then, when Jimmy got involved we started talking about it and started a Whatsapp group to discuss things and it’s really worked,” he said.

“We would encourage everyone to talk about their mental health because it does work.

Working with the community and bringing it to light means it can really help,” he said. “It can save lives.”