‘We’ll do it for Eden’
The family of the late Eden Heaslip believe mental health support services are “overwhelmed” at present. They recommended at the inquest into the teenager’s death that a confidential helpline be established to assist others in reaching out before it’s too late.
“We request that a confidential phone line be created to cater for both children and adults, operated by trained professionals, in each HSE provincial office,” said Eden’s sister Chloe after a verdict of ‘death by suicide’ was recorded at Cavan Courthouse last Friday afternoon, July 8.
“Additionally, we’d encourage everyone to write down their passwords to their phones and devices, place them in a sealed envelope, and secure them in a safe place so they are accessible if they’re ever needed.”
Eden Ray Heaslip, of Killynanum, Carrickaboy, ended his life just two weeks after his 18th birthday, on September 20, 2021.
His mum Maggie was the last person to see her son alive. The inquest heard that he had hugged her before going out the door.
He also sent his brother Finn a ‘Peace’ sign emoji.
Coroner Dr Mary Flanagan described the recommendations made by Eden’s family as “worthy”, and committed to raise them with the HSE in due course.
Dr Flanagan also extended her sympathies to the Heaslips. “This has been a terribly tragic time for you all. I know you must feel very angry and upset.”
Eden’s family believe years of bullying and online abuse contributed to their son and brothers’ tragic passing. “It [the abuse] followed him to the pub on his night out to celebrate his birthday and getting a new job. It came the whole way through,” Eden’s heartbroken father, Raymond, told the Celt following the inquest.
“If you’re a child you should be able to talk to your parents. But, if you can’t, the person there on the other end of the line is someone professionally trained to deal with that. There has to be around these things,” he says of a dedicated, confidential, anti-bullying phone line to act as a “preventative” measure to stop matters escalating to a fatal point.
“We need the victims of bullies to know they’ve done nothing wrong, that it’s okay to talk, there is a safe space to open up. I’d like ‘Be Buddies’ or Eden’s phone line, or whatever it’s called to be a stepping stone for people in reaching that safe space, before getting to the point of feeling the need to ring a suicide prevention helpline because, often then, the idea is there, and it can be too late. It would save the government a lot of money, and a lot of families grief.”
Raymond struggles under the weight of emotion as he tries to put into words his young son’s zest for life. “He was just a joy to be around,” he says, voice cracking. “He lived life to the full. Loved his music, movies, loved cars, loved being with his friends. He was so funny, a real character. He was something else really. That’s our Eden.”
The Heaslips feel there is this is no more fitting tribute than the ‘SingForMe’ music festival this coming weekend (Friday-Sunday, July 15-17) at Blessing’s Bar in Cavan Town, which this year is dedicated to Eden’s memory, and supports the ‘Be Buddies, Not Bullies’ campaign.
‘SingForMe’ organiser, Leanne Coyle, says Eden’s story has “touched the lives of many”, and that ‘Be Buddies, Not Bullies’ is fast becoming globally recognised as an anti-bullying awareness campaign.
Such was the demand to take part, this year’s event was extended from two to three nights.
“This year is going to differ as well, and because ‘SingForMe’ was built around promoting positive mental health and togetherness in the community, we’ve reached out to all local charities, the likes of SOSAD Cavan and others, as well as services, who’ll be incorporated into the festival. There’ll be an information table for people on the way in, and if anyone wants to speak to a representative present, there’ll be a space for that as well.”
At last week’s inquest, Raymond thanked family, friends, and neighbours for their support since Eden’s death. “They’ve been very good to us. Canon Mark Lidwell, Fr Jason [Murphy], and Fr Donal Kilduff. Also, I’d like to thank the gardaí for their help, the ambulance people, and in general I’d like to thank the public.”
Their sense of loss, and the constant knowing that Eden had so much left to give, has made the Heaslips more determined than ever that his passing will not be in vain.
The next step for ‘Be Buddies, Not Bullies’ is completing the formal process of registering for charitable status.
Chloe, who recently completed a Masters, is now considering taking a year out before taking up teaching full time to assist in promoting the cause in schools, the length and breadth of Ireland.
She has already spoken to children in a number of local schools, and back in May, was invited by Minister for Education, Norma Foley, to meet with a Departmental Steering Committee tasked with updating the 2013 Irish AntiBullying Action Plan.
It followed a meeting between the Heaslips, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Ministers Foley and Heather Humphreys, and senior Civil Service chiefs.
Chloe’s 20-minute presentation was listened to by a room filled with stakeholders such as the Ombudsman for Children, as well as the heads of various youth representative organisations, and officials from major social media companies such as Meta, formerly Facebook.
“I told them Eden’s story and about my own experiences as a trainee teacher. I told them about what we feel as a family could and should be changed.”
Chloe states that it is more vital now than ever before that social media platforms step up and are held accountable for the manner in which they deal with harmful online content.
She also hopes there will be greater enforcement too of Coco’s law, named after Nicole ‘Coco’ Fox, who took her life after suffering bullying.
As an experiment, if only to prove to herself how easy it was to set-up a ‘ghost’ account which could then be used for the purposes “trolling”, it took Chloe less than five minutes to establish profiles on three of the most popular social media sites.
“What annoys me is, during the pandemic, using the word ‘Covid’, or type ‘Vaccine’, straight away a message would pop up saying ‘Learn More’. That was there within two or three months. So the technology is there. There are so many people being trolled online, why can’t it be made so, if someone posts a racist, homophobic or offensive comment online, then the system logs that and prevents it from being shown? Why doesn’t it get flagged?”
Raymond agrees, and says it’s about time that social media giants re-examine how such platforms can be used to influence life and societal change in a positive way.
“That message might come up once, twice even, and person will ignore it. But if it keeps coming up, it might make that person stop and think about what they’re doing. Think twice about making a remark and eventually, hopefully, it’ll tick home that they might need to change.”
Eden’s family, like others around Ireland who have since reached out to them, hope work to establish a new social media watchdog, will in future help victims of bullying like the Cavan teenager.
“Self regulation isn’t good enough any more,” claims Chloe. “You could report a post and it could be 24 hours before it’s taken down. By then the damage is already done. Even if the account from which it was posted is banned, it’s so easy just to set up another. They still commented on [Eden’s] Instagram even after he died. I reported them to the guards, that was last October, but we’ve heard nothing about it since. If they hurt us, I can only imagine what Eden was getting. We just want to help others now, we’ll do it for Eden.”