Belfast Telegraph Article

Belfast Telegraph Article

Niamh McKee (15) tragically died by suicide on November 21, 2005 sending shockwaves through Clonmore outside Dungannon.

Her death prompted her brave mum Catherine McBennett to start the Niamh Louise Foundation in a bid to help others.

Catherine co-founded the foundation with Niamh’s step-father James, and Anne Donaghy, now Chief Executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

Mum Catherine, in an inspiring message of hope has told of how she found the strength to acknowledge events like Christmas again.

Catherine never thought she would have decorations up in her home again.

But spurred on by Niamh’s sisters Seanna (19) Caoimhe (15) and Aoibheann (9) they found a way to celebrate the festive period.

Niamh had her whole life ahead of her — and her death came completely out of the blue.

But now, looking back, Catherine knows there were signs — and is working to educate families around Northern Ireland about them.

She explained the early signs of anxiety that Niamh was showing.

“She didn’t want to go to school, she had sickness — and those are early signs of anxiety — for example, a sore tummy and a pain in their chest — and we know that now.

“We got her to go to speak to someone but never in a million years did you think it would end up in suicide.

“That never once crossed our mind.”

While that day is etched in Catherine’s mind — she says as time goes on, it isn’t something she thinks about every day, and it only comes to the fore at the anniversary of her death.

She believes the only way you can get to that point is by seeking out help.

She said: “For families bereaved, it does take talking and at least a couple of years for the image and those horrific memories to fade.

“But that is not something you can do in isolation.

“The Foundation helped me, because I was able to speak to other people who had experienced a loss and with talking about it, and not being alone.”

As Niamh died in November, Christmas and New Year is naturally a difficult time for the family.

And while Catherine initially wanted to shut down and have nothing to do with it — someone pointed out the need for her to continue Christmas for her other children.

She explained: “When Niamh died in November, that very first Christmas my two older children were aged 6 and 2.

“And I was like ‘right that’s it, no decorations are going up. I am not doing Christmas’.

“And someone said to me, ‘Do you want your children to hate Niamh” I was like ‘what are you on about?’

“They said, ‘if you don’t do Christmas they will blame Niamh.’”

Catherine says while she herself hasn’t put up decorations in 13 years — she lets her children do it.

“They put the decorations up and whatever way they put it, that’s fine by me.

“I still cannot bring myself to get into that spirit.”

Catherine makes sure for her other daughters that Niamh nor mental health is not a taboo subject in her home — and encourages open conversation.

And she believes it’s her duty to spread the message of hope.

She said: “When Niamh was born, I got a package that said she needed to get an injection for this and that, watch out for meningitis, watch out for this illness — never once was there a leaflet or anybody who said, your child could develop a mental health problem and your child could die by suicide.

“I would have educated myself if that was brought up in a positive fashion.

“There is still the stigma with suicide and mental health that people are so scared to talk about it — but the more we talk about it in a positive way, it will encourage people to get help and you can recover from it.

“We want to say look, you can recover with the right help. You can’t do it on your own.”

The Niamh Louise Foundation is working to educate in many areas about mental health and recently moved into university’s to speak with new teachers.

Catherine said: “We have been invited by St Mary’s in Belfast to work with them on helping their teachers when they go out teaching.”

She continued: “You need the young teachers to be educated on mental health and how to deal with the child in the primary setting and post primary.”

And in addition to that they hope that Stormont gets up and running soon in order to provide the care that everyone in Northern Ireland deserves.

She said: “We can move forward and we can implement that growth but there is only so much we can do we’re a small charity.

“There are so many people out there in need. Everybody in Northern Ireland deserves the proper high standard care.”

The charity rely on donations and are in the first year of £520k funding from the Big Lottery Fund. Their long-term vision is to provide respite for families at risk of suicide or bereaved by suicide.

She added: “Thankfully we have been able to secure that money but without the community we would not be in existence we have to really applaud the community for keeping us sustained.

“It’s a cliche — but every little helps.”

She added: “If we can save one person that was always our mission.

“If we can help one person at least then Niamh’s death didn’t go in vain.”

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