It was an emotional night for the first Kathleen Gorman Memorial Lecture, with Dr Fergus Heffernan revealing his personal traumas, and Kathleen’s widower Billy speaking about his late wife.
The lecture in the Abbyleix Manor Hotel last Tuesday October 7 was held as part of Laois Connects mental health awareness week, which Kathleen helped to found.
Dr Heffernan who recalled Kathleen’s “positive energy”, spoke of the importance of family love in mental health and suicide prevention, and urged people not to be overprotective with their children, instead helping them to learn to recover from life’s setbacks.
He blamed the high suicide rate in young people on a ‘compo culture’ that made parents fearful of allowing children outdoors, while the points college system allows no room for failure.
“The problem is a lack of resilience. Parents took their kids indoors so they wouldn’t get hurt, but unintentionally stopped a whole generation from learning how to take a fall. We told them abusers were waiting in the ditch, they weren’t, 80 percent of abuse happens in families. We created a mistrust in society. We have 300 online friends but none to call if we are feeling down. Family love is the greatest act of love, the answer is to go back to our families,” he said.
His mother had manic depression and his father drank himself to an early grave Dr Heffernan said.
“I had an anxious home, always worried was Mam in hospital, or in my bed waiting for Dad to come home, when they would scream at each other all night. I was the peacekeeper, but I brought that on to my own family, I controlled everything, and if something went wrong, I reconnected back to the old anxieties,” he said.
He stunned the audience by telling them his teenage son tried to hang himself, later recovering but with a long period of self harming.
“In the midst of that we learned to be a family, we learned to listen, we learned humility. We moved on by finding little things you can change,” he said.