Head and shoulders picture of Lisa Archibald from the Families Voices ForumOne of the most heartening responses to the Covid-19 pandemic is the way in which people have been coming together to work with a unified sense of purpose.

Lisa Archibald, Co-ordination and Development Officer for the Families Voices Forum, wrote this blog after witnessing this in action at a meeting, on 24th June, of the NI Assembly All-Party Group on Suicide Prevention.

There's a lot of experience shared by the members of our Forum. It's a shared experience of the devastating impact of losing someone you love with all your heart, mind and soul to suicide. It's a shared experience of learning to live with a heavy grief that never goes away but which becomes easier to carry as you learn how to become stronger than you ever thought possible. It's a shared experience of learning to find meaning and purpose in life again when everything you believed to be true is shattered. It's a new normal.

These shared experiences have brought people together from across the country in silent understanding, respect and care for one another. An unimaginable trauma that has changed lives forever and given them a common purpose. To protect lives. Sound familiar? 

We reflected on events today and began to see the similarities across our communities for different reasons but with similar effects. Covid-19.

The virus was feared, ignored, laughed about. It was the great unknown. Like suicide has been for so long now. Yet through this pandemic, the shared experiences of living with this virus have created opportunities for finding reasons to be together, work together, support each other, to care. To find our new normal. To protect lives.
Religious affiliation, political persuasion - divides we have lived lifetimes with - have been overtaken by the greater common good of being a community of human beings with a will to live. Together, fighting against a virus - a shared, unseen enemy.

Today we saw politicians from every party come together in agreement to prioritise mental health and suicide prevention across every department. We witnessed MLAs from both Unionist and Nationalist traditions stand up and support each other, and the Health Minister Robin Swann, with respect. So that at last, we, the families of Northern Ireland, have a unanimous agreement in our Assembly to work across all departments, together, to reduce suicides.

Sometimes it takes traumatic events to bring catalytic change. How we respond to that change is our opportunity to grow and strengthen our resilience. Forum members know this. They took that path too and not by choice. And no, it's not easy, but it's worth it for the individuals involved and for those whose lives they then touch. A new normal.

The Forum hopes that the changes in our political world today will become our new normal too. Think of the hope that would bring to tired old hearts and to young fresh minds everywhere. Can it be that it took a virus, a pandemic, to bring a chance of peace and reconciliation to our country? We hope so. Some things should never be forgotten. The past is important. And so is the future. Just ask our bereaved family members.