The director of new Irish film The Gift felt compelled to make the movie as his way of highlighting the frightening level of suicides in Ireland.

Damien O’Callaghan, a former Killarney jarvey and bouncer, who debuted with the short film Bouncers in 2013, wrote The Gift with Kildare screenwriter Paul Fitzsimons.

He invested his life savings into the movie, which tells the story of Sean, a man left devastated after losing his wife to cancer. Unable to cope with his loss, he plans to end it all.

"It all started from a news article that I read," O'Callaghan told RTÉ Entertainment. "I was looking at the stats of suicide and I was shocked to discover that there's an average of 600 people a year who are losing their lives through suicide in this country.

We need your consent to load this Vimeo contentWe use Vimeo to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

"I was just imagining 600 people in a room. It's a lot of people, especially in this day and age with all the resources that we have. I was thinking that wasn't right because, back in 1950, 76 people was the average for the year."

Given how grim life was for most Irish people at a time when Ireland was still largely a pre-industrial country, O'Callaghan was surprised that the figure from 1950 was only a fraction of what it is today.

"Back then there was the poverty - look at the resources we have and what's available to us," he said. "You think it would be a lot less but it's actually the opposite.

"Then I realised that I wanted to do something about suicide rates in Ireland. I wanted to tell a story. I wanted to play my part. So I did a bit of research and I discovered that one of the main factors that would cause a person to make that decision was depression.

"As Irish people, we hide our depression, we see it as a bit of a weakness, I feel. We're very slow to tell people how we're feeling. That attitude is starting to change now - which is great.

"A lot of people are very quick to talk about their physical health, but they're not so inclined to talk about their mental health, leaving their guard down."

Although he's never suffered from suicidal tendencies, O'Callaghan considered the set of circumstances that might drive him to the point of despair and the loss of all hope.

"What would make them take this monumental decision?" he wonders. "I decided to write a story and give an example. I decided to write a story about a fella who loses his wife to cancer.

"And it was a year later that the story takes place. It's a year on from her death, he still can't let go and he decides to make that monumental decision."

And although it's a very serious subject, O'Callaghan is at pains to point out that there's more to The Gift than a journey into the heart of darkness. "I didn't want the film to be all doom and gloom," he insists.

"So it's actually a love story about someone who can't let go. There are all sorts of characters trying to convince him not to do it. Life gets in the way. Another love interest comes into it, he's a teacher so he's students to think about.

"There's all that going on in the background, but at the same time he can't let go because their relationship was so strong," he adds. "It's very universal."

The Gift is currently screening in cinemas around Ireland, including Omniplex cinemas in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Wexford and at Cinema Killarney.

John Byrne