Alicia Daly on Writing Just Another Statistic
The Belfast-based youth worker writes about her own experiences with suicide in a new play for Féile an Phobail
Just Another Statistic is a play that follows 19-year-old Sean as he reflects on the trials and tribulations of his life so far. Sean is from west Belfast and has lived a troubled life. To his despair, has become someone he never thought he would be.
With his self esteem is at an all-time low, Sean finds himself following a path of self destruction, turning to drugs and alcohol for solace. He knows, however, that they are temporary bandages for permanent wounds. And so the cycle begins.
The drugs begin to take their toll; Sean's life is turned upside down. He is in danger of becoming just another statistic. For him, it's time to make a decision. Fight or flight? Live or die?
I began writing Just Another Statistic about five years ago. To start with, it was an outlet for my own personal grief. Being suicidal at the time, I was overwhelmed with thoughts of not being good enough, that life was not worth living, that I would never amount to anything. And I decided to write everything down.
It is hard to distinguish where these thoughts came from. They spiralled very fast. As much as I tried, feeling worthless was something I simply could not overcome on my own. I sought help through counselling, which did help, but I could not shake what felt like an unbearable pain. I merely existed.
In that deeply dark time, an incredible person came into my life. Initially I rebelled against his affections, believing I was not worthy. I was broken and no one could pick up the pieces but me. But I took a risk, and it paid off.
One day I was asked by a friend if I was OK. Much to my shock, I answered yes. Something in me had changed. I had begun to breathe again. I had fallen in love, not just with another human being, but with the possibility of what my life could be.
He had given me a reason to smile and showed me what others couldn’t. He told me I was worthy, that I had a right to be happy. Somewhere along the line, I began to believe him. A weight had been lifted. I had hope.
The process wasn’t over yet. I still had bad days, but by then I had someone to hold my hand. With the help of family, friends and what I can only describe as a beautiful soul, I began to take my first steps on my own. In the last five years, I have learned so much. I have learned to never give up, that in a split second, everything can change.
In my community in north Belfast, suicide is a path that many chose to walk. From 2001 to 2011, suicide rates in the west and north of Belfast have risen by an alarming 64%. I was absolutely astounded by that statistic. It spurred me on to write my play.
Having experienced the devastation that suicide leaves behind, I began to wonder what becomes of those people that have taken their own lives? Is pain their legacy? Is it all that their lives will amount to – being just another statistic in the newspaper?
Between 1997 and 2012, 3426,00 people have been registered as having committed suicide in Northern Ireland. I find it ironic that suicide rates began to increase in the year that the Good Friday Agreement was signed. It was the start of something new, but so many people were still living with the pain of the previous decades, pain that I believe simply festered and was passed on through generations.
Some may disagree. Maybe I’m just looking for answers. I don’t think I will ever know why ‘deprived’ areas have high suicide rates, but I do know that suicide has become the norm for many. I rarely go a weekend without hearing about the death of another young man or woman in my community.
When writing Just Another Statistic, I considered certain questions. What makes people think that life is not worth the fight? Human bodies are designed to stay alive – thick skulls, strong hearts and keen senses – so what makes people think that suicide is the only option? The answer to these questions are different for everyone.
I do believe that drugs and alcohol have a part to play. My personal experience has taught me that. The lack of opportunity and education for young people also seems to be having an effect. If only we had all the answers...
The response to my play has been positive, for the most part. Many have said that the script is hard-hitting and controversial. I understand that suicide is a touchy subject for many, but it is a leading cause of death in young people in the North of Ireland, and it is something that we who work in the arts must address.
We talk openingly about cancer, heart disease, obesity and such, and yet we struggle, at times, to talk about suicide. Just Another Statistic is a controversial piece of theatre. It does not beat around the bush, because suicide does not discriminate.
People of all genders, ages and ethnicities are at risk. But we as a community have the power to do more, and I think it is time we did just that. If one person leaves the theatre after seeing my play thinking 'This kid has a point', then I have done everything I set out to do.
Just Another Statistic will be performed at the Rock Bar in Belfast on from August 1 – 2, as part of the 25th Féile and Phobail community arts festival. Proceeds go to the West Belfast Suicide Awareness and Support Group. View the full Féile and Phobail festival programme.