On July 22nd, 2004 I left Midleton in County Cork to travel 1,000 miles in 7 days to raise the delicate and yet burning topic of ever increasing number of suicides in Ireland.
Depression, often the cause of suicide, is not given the attention it deserves. People who suffer from depression are the last people to stand up and demand things and there would be a lot that should be demanded on their behalf.
Pills instead of therapy
When you suffer from alcoholism or a drug addiction, you qualify for a therapy, if you are a convicted rapist you will be given some kind of treatment, but if you suffer from depression, which often ends in death, you’re given – if you’re lucky, some pills.
This must change!
Time for each other
First of all we must find time for each other again, we need to recognise when people are in need. Depressed members of our society live withdrawn, they don’t come out and say “I suffer from depression”. A lot of these people don’t even know that they do suffer from depression.
Depression is a lonely illness
I went to travel 1,000 miles in 7 days, but it turned out to be a little more than 1,000 miles in 9 days. I met and talked to dozens of people, who had all a story to tell. They had either suffered a loss by suicide in the family or were depressed or maybe even suicidal themselves.
The nine days turned out to be the most emotional time of my life and I learned something very important. I had actually suffered from a heavy depression in the past myself and I didn’t recognise it at the time.
In the mid 90s I went through a long phase in my life, where I had locked myself away. I didn’t have any contact to my friends or family, I didn’t answer the phone, I only left the house if absolutely necessary and then only by rushing through the streets. I didn’t even have much contact to my children, who were living with me in the same house.
My wife was everything but my friend at the time, even though she was there for me. She didn’t know what was going on and told me repeatedly that I was a waste of space.
However, it took that trip for me to learn that I had suffered from an illness, which thousands of people around us suffer from and I know it is an awful life one lives.
So, here the project.
Santa Claus is coming to town
In the middle of summer, I dressed up as Santa Claus and hitch-hiked through the Republic of Ireland.
The public went mental
Nowadays, people are very fast in contacting their local radio station, by sending text messages.
I considered this fact in the planning of the project.
As I was standing at the side of Irish roads, hitching a lift, I caught the eye of every driver and passenger of every vehicle that passed me.
Ireland’s drivers were mad. All day long I heard constant beeping, waving, shouting. People were hanging out of cars trying to take pictures of me.
At the same time, those people contacted their radio stations. “There’s a madman dressed up as Santa Claus hitch-hiking”. The local media jumped on to the topic. I was visited by reporters from all walks of the Irish media. Newspapers, radio stations, TV channels etc. Everyone wanted to know why I was running around, dressed up as Santa in the middle of summer.
I was able to tell my story, to raise a topic, nobody wanted to talk about in the past.
I finished the project, by climbing Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday, dressed up as Santa.
The response was overwhelming. I talked to so many people.
People, who were left behind by relatives who committed suicide. People, who were seriously contemplating to take their own life, because they just didn’t know how to deal with their “hopeless” situation.
No awareness without the media
Fact is, that with this project, I reached my goal of raising as much awareness as possible. Suicide was openly discussed.
Have a look at the media reports.
The reason, why the journey was over nine and not seven days, had to do with Ireland’s children. I never thought of them, when planning the project. They needed some answers.
I initially told them that I was on holiday. Later on, I started telling them that I’m checking on them. Making sure that they behave and that I would be back if they did.
At one occasion in Waterford I saw a child (maybe 3 years of age) having a tantrum. It was in the middle of a shopping centre. The boy was lying on the ground, kicking and screaming. The mother was helplessly watching him, feeling obviously embarrassed.
I went over to the boy and bent over him. He looked at me with very big eyes and stopped crying. I looked into his red, swollen and wet face. He pulled himself up on his mother’s leg and squeezed his face into the leg, peeking at me with one eye.
“Are you a good boy?” I asked.
“Are you going to behave for your mummy?” I continued asking.
He nodded again.
The mother took his hand and off they went. About 25 yards on, both of them turned around and looked at me in disbelief.