23 May 2022

'For decades there has been virtually no support' - Christy Bannon, SOSAD Laois

A new community run free mental health counselling centre has officially opened in Laois, the result of a local community's passionate work to provide a local service in the county and tackle the problem of suicide.

SOSAD Laois opened their doors for an Open Day on Friday, April 22, at Shamrock House on the Abbeyleix Road, to give local people a real taste of the services and offices they have on offer to

The centre offers free professional counselling sessions to anyone in need, and is funded by donations raised in Laois, with all that money promised to be used in the Laois branch, one of seven around Ireland.

Portlaoise mental health advocate Christy Bannon is on the SOSAD Laois committee and a main driver in bringing the centre to Laois.

“SOSAD coming to Laois is a lifeline for so many people. For decades there has been virtually no support for so many people who didn't require hospitalisation but needed help. All of the big mental health charities would gladly accept donations but were nowhere to be seen when someone was in dire need of help in Laois.

“But now with SOSAD we have counselling and support that is free of charge for people aged 16 and upwards.

“We have a local office and two counselling rooms where people can come and sit down with a professional counsellor and get that help that's needed. And you don't have to be actively suicidal to be there. SOSAD believe in suicide prevention through early intervention,” Christy said.

However continued local funding is essential he said.

“Although the services are free SOSAD receive very little funding and so has to raise funds in order to provide all of these services. But the one thing we should all focus on is that the money raised in Laois, stays in Laois, to support the people of Laois. So if you can support SOSAD in any way at all it is always greatly appreciated,” he said.

Laois County Council Cathaoirleach Cllr Conor Bergin had the honour of cutting the ribbon along with Carol Murphy, General Manager of SOSAD Ireland.

“I know the community worked very hard to get this fantastic office open in the centre of Portlaoise, offering free help to all who need it. It is a beautiful premises with a very dedicated team of volunteers,” Cllr Bergin said.

It is not quite a 'drop-in' centre yet but sessions can be given within hours for emergency cases, Co-ordinator Grace Ennis told the Leinster Express on the open day.

"We had a wonderful turnout today, it was a chance for people to come down, see the services we offer, and to volunteer if they are interested.

“We offer one to one counselling, and we hope to get bereavement group up and running this year. We are open since last April and this office opened in October.

“It's going really well. People are starting to learn what we offer, what we can do. We have a 24 seven phone line and a freefone number, if people ring in crisis, some counsellor will make time to come in and meet them. I really think it's reaching people. Our volunteers are spreading the word," she said.

The seventh SOSAD centre in Ireland, the Laois branch also has a lovely secluded back garden.

“It is a private green space where people can do some walk and talk therapy or sit and enjoy the calm, it's a therapy on its own,” SOSAD GM Carol Murphy told the Leinster Express.

"I think the people of Laois appreciate the fact that this is a local service, community based where we can be really responsive and much faster than state services.

“We don't have a waiting list. People in crisis can be seen in a matter of hours. Our 24 hour line helps day and night with somebody who is trained on the phone. We also have a web messaging service, sometimes people like to speak anonymously," she said.

SOSAD is particularly aware of high suicide rates in younger people especially young men.

"We have a young people's project for ages 16 upwards, which gives peer group support. Sometimes people don't want to do one to one and feel more comfortable with peers. One type of services doesn't fit everybody," Carol said.

On the open day, the Ukraine refugee community visited to take part in yoga, rockpainting and mindfulness sessions, by volunteer and Russian speaker Irina Volia.

Irina exxplained why support of mental health for Ukraine refugees is so urgently needed.

"They have anxiety so it was great for them to relax and come together. They really do feel that the community is helping them. It helped them to deal with the stress of being in a very bad situation, without their husbands or families. Thank you to SOSAD for organising this opportunity for Ukrainians," she said.

Irina also thanked Laois Partnership who are organising many more events for Ukraine refugees in the county.
Call SOSAD Laois on 083-0291706. email: laoisoffice@ or ring the 24 hour SOSAD line on 1800 901 909
SOSAD also offer a support line in the Russian language on 087 397 1152.

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