Joan Freeman was born in Dublin in the 1950s, a middle child in a family of eight children. She started her counselling experience with Accord, and loved working with married couples. After a personal tragedy, she noticed there was a huge lack of suicide prevention services in Ireland, and went about establishing the country’s only organisation providing a free, professional, face to face, therapeutic service for people in the acute stages of distress. In 2006, she set up Pieta House, the Centre for the Prevention of Self-harm or Suicide.
Having brought the service to such great heights, and having helped thousands of people in suicidal distress, in 2015 Joan readjusted her focus and brought the wonderful work of Pieta House to the US, opening up Solace House in 2017. And more recently, she has found a new and exciting purpose in her role as Senator in Seanad Éireann.
Joan immediately knew that her focus would be in mental health and the associated challenges we face in Ireland. By staying centred and committed to this difficult topic, especially around services for children’s mental health, Joan realised her passion was to act as a voice for the most vulnerable children in our society. Her numerous achievements in her first 18 months as Senator include holding a public consultation on mental health, inviting the parents of children using mental health services, and those who provided these services, to have their say. Joan was responsible for creating a joint Oireachtas committee on mental health, the first of its kind in the history of the State. And one of her most recent achievements include an amendment to legislation that will make it illegal to place children in adult psychiatric wards.
The stigma of mental ill-health is gradually being lifted, and there is no doubt that Joan’s work with Pieta House has contributed greatly to that. Joan regularly speaks to groups and organisations around the country, promoting tolerance and educating people around suicide and self-harm.
Joan is a wife to Pat, a mother to four adult children, a grandmother to three-going-on-four little ones, a dear sister, and a cherished friend to many.
Some kind words
A champion for the rights of people who have been deeply marginalised, Joan has shown incredible courage, bravery and tenacity in bringing to the fore issues related to mental health and suicide awareness, which for so long were taboo subjects.
Joan Freeman puts the clients of Pieta House at the centre of all the decisions she makes.
There is a quality of mercy in Joan Freeman, that not alone saves lives but protects and affirms our very humanity