Taxi driver Derek Devoy was leading a secretive double life. In the mornings, he got out of bed, got dressed and ready for work, but as soon as his wife and children left the house, he went back to bed again. He kept up the pretence for eight months, until the bank came calling, threatening to repossess his home. “As a self-employed taxi driver, if I don’t show up for work, I don’t earn any money,” the County Kilkenny man told BBC News NI.
For months, he had been struggling to cope with a serious back injury, caused when a drunk driver crashed into the back of his car at a checkpoint. He underwent a number of rounds of surgery, but said that after each operation, his mental health worsened. “I just got lower and lower,” Derek recalled, adding he spent his days in bed, crying.
Faced with losing his family home, he said he started to think his wife and children would be “better off without me”, and made three attempts at suicide. The morning after his third attempt, he contacted his doctor and finally asked for help to deal with his depression.
Eventually, with medical treatment and counselling, Derek was able to return work. But on his first night back in his taxi, he saw a distressed man on a bridge in Kilkenny. He stopped his cab and spoke to the stranger, asking him why he was trying to kill himself. “He told me the bank was trying to repossess his house,” Derek recalled. Was it coincidence or fate that Derek happened to be passing the bridge at the time? He doesn’t know, but he does know he was able to use his own personal experience to help the suicidal man.
The experience had a deep effect on Derek. He decided to undergo training, and completed the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) course.
Knowing that other taxi drivers must have seen similar sights, he encouraged 15 of his work colleagues to do the course. The then mayor of Kilkenny allowed them to use his council chamber as a training centre. The venture became known as Taxi Watch – which since its foundation in 2014 has “directly intervened” in almost 200 suicide attempts. Derek said that as well as intervening in suicide attempts, Taxi Watch volunteers have helped “hundreds more” to access counselling.
Derek continues to draw on his personal experience to help people in their darkest moments and said his own history of depression has made him a more effective counsellor. “People want to know that you’ve gone through it,” he said. “They don’t want to talk to professors. You need people who have been there – and come out the other side – to speak out.”
Read more on BBC.com.