The reason I named the article ‘The Dark Cloud Above Us’ Is because it’s a metaphor that has stuck with me, a metaphor often used by people here to describe the awful truths and reality of living in a deprived community that has seen some of the worst that the conflict had to offer and now in ‘peace time’ we see more and more young men women and even children taking their lives, mental health problems, poverty, addiction don’t discriminate by age, but young people more and more are taking their lives.
As a kid, you never sit back and contemplate your future. Well, not in any real way. Running about with my mates and my wee brother as a kid in North Belfast I never could foresee that fast forward to today a lot of those friends including my brother would be deceased through suicide and I would be considered one of the survivor’s.
Here in 2017 I find myself writing about it. I still find it very surreal. There is something very wrong, when you can walk past more or less anyone on the street within a community and find that they have been touched by suicide in some way shape or form, whether through the loss of family members, friends, friends of friends, this touches the community at large in a way that is unmeasurable. Not addressing these issues now, means condemning our future generations to a life of struggle and death, and we can’t let this continue, we just can’t. It’s of no surprise a large amount of people within working class communities use and abuse drugs in some way shape or form.
Of course this is found in other more affluent areas as well, but certainly not to the extent faced by the more deprived areas. Life for local here families here is based on dread and fear, of their children becoming addicted to drugs, alcohol, cocaine, prescription medication or other, they are afraid that their children may end up like so many before them. The widespread use of these drugs is no surprise, neither is the steady decline in the mental health of the community here in North Belfast and the North in general, especially coming out of a major conflict.
The transition from war to peace has actually taken more lives than when street battles were being fought during the conflict. This decline in mental health certainly does not stop with the North of Ireland – the whole of Ireland faces a widespread mental health and drug epidemic right now, not in the future but now. This is why there needs to be a more complete approach to dealing with the core issues of mental health and drug addiction.
People ask, but how can what happened in the 60’s 70’s 80’s 90’s and through the 2000’s cause so much devastation among our people, how come it seems like our communities are falling apart and we are losing loved ones nearly on a weekly basis? Well the fact is, there is no one answer to it, but what took place through all those years continue to reverberate through time and we continue to face such issues because of our past. The poverty, drug abuse, mental health are all a part of this.
It is for this reason that generations that come after conflict will continue to feel the pain of the past, maybe not through a baton to the head by a soldier or a stray rubber bullet, but through the pain carried by the families of those affected. Of course, because we are a post conflict society we will face these issues, but on this scale? The problems here are continually exacerbated by the divisive politics that drives this part of Ireland. That coupled with the continued cuts on health, welfare, education and front line services, including mental health services that provide a crucial and priceless service to the people here.
We must realize that over the course of successive governments in the UK and the setup of an assembly here, ferocious cuts have been made that have cost people lives, of this I have no doubt! Communities continue to live in deprivation and poverty. Some think that somehow the DUP will hold the Tory government to account when it comes to cuts here, and that the 1 billion announced for here will bring a new breath of life into our communities. I say not a chance! And to the new breath of life, well sure the money has already been allocated with mental health only receiving 50 million out of the 1 billion package. That 50 million will be over 5 years, that’s 10 million a year.
What sort of messed up world do we live in! All of this in light of the continually failed talks to get the executive up and running again means we face direct rule from Westminster if the parties here can’t come to an agreement, so that leaves even more doubt in the minds of the people. Mental health, along with housing should be key issues for the governments both here and in the UK, but again this doesn’t seem to be the case. Do I think we will see a big change in our lives and in living conditions here over the next 2 years or 5 years? No I do not, but one thing’s for sure, we will have faster broadband and the York street Interchange will be finished.
What people say is, “We need to wait and see.” Well all I can say is life waits for no man and today the crises we have is taking our young people on a weekly basis, so for the foreseeable future I doubt anyone sees any real change on the horizon for our communities. I may be wrong, and if so I will hold my hands up, but until then I will continue to do my best to speak out about the failures and injustices of this failed system.
(I will be doing a more personal article about me and my family’s experience losing Jamie through suicide in the near future)