OMAGH mental health worker Barry McGale will be presented with a prestigious award this week by the American Association of Suicidology (AAS).
Mr McGale will be the first non-American to receive the Roger J Tierney Service Award at the AAS Annual Conference in Chicago.
The award recognises time and effort given by Mr McGale to advance the association’s principles, growth and development, and for applied contributions to the fields of suicidology and crisis intervention.
Mr McGale has worked for almost 40 years in the field of mental health and recently retired from his role as suicide awareness co-ordinator with the Western Trust.
“These awards have been held since the 1980s and it is a great honour to be the first non American or Canadian recipient,” said Mr McGale.
“I was nominated by the executive director of the New Hampshire National association for mental Illness, Kenneth Martin, who I have worked a lot with over the years.
“I was then very shocked to hear back from the AAS executive committee that I was being invited to the conference next week to be presented the award.”
Mr McGale has a background in mental health nursing spanning back to 1978. He trained at Omagh’s Tyrone and Fermanagh Hospital, specialising in addiction.
Seeking a change, he joined Mencap for four years working with children and adults with learning difficulties and providing support to their families.
This opened up a whole new world that eventually led to a fascination with the complexities of suicide.
“During this period, there were a number of suicides in the Omagh area and, having looked at how the communities, but more importantly the families, were affected, had a real profound affect on me; to the point that I started reading up on the subject as I wanted to understand suicide from my own personal perspective, understand what could bring someone to contemplate ending their life.”
In 1997, Mr McGale moved to Derry to co-ordinate the Western Trust’s suicide strategy.
Having retired just before Christmas, he is still busy working with universities in Manchester and Cork as a consultant.
Speaking about his work on the front-line of innovative preventative initiatives, Mr McGale said, “The issue of suicide has challenged all of us and unfortunately we have to recognise there has been an increase.
“I have been very privileged to meet many families who have lost someone to suicide and I have to say I admire their strength, conviction and their ability to transmit hope to others who find themselves in that position.”
Mr McGale continued, “People have all sorts of theories of why suicide is happening.
“I certainly know it is never as simple as one reason, but we do know it is the person’s inability to cope with the stresses that are going on in their lives.
“Suicide is not a health and social care issue alone, it is a community issue and we all have a part to play in identifying suicide and intervening.”