Thursday 23 March 2017

Dawn campaign pushes suicide to top of agenda

Darkness into Light has grown from 400 to 120,000 people walking around the world

CHARITY: An estimated 120,000 people turned out for 5km dawn walks in aid of Pieta House’s annual Darkness Into Light campaign on Saturday morning in nearly 120 locations. Photography: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland
CHARITY: An estimated 120,000 people turned out for 5km dawn walks in aid of Pieta House’s annual Darkness Into Light campaign on Saturday morning in nearly 120 locations. Photography: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland
Former Rose of Tralee Marie Walsh (on right) with Louise Maguire
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Irish celebrities got straight out of their VIP Style Award dresses and into a tracksuit at 4am yesterday morning to take part in the annual Darkness into Light walk for suicide awareness.

Sporting her new bleached-blonde hair, former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh along with Ireland's fittest mom Louise Quinn were among thousands of people who turned out before sunrise to take part in the 5km event.

The annual fundraising and awareness event, supported by Electric Ireland, got under way at almost 120 locations in Ireland and across the world - including Abu Dhabi, Iceland, and San Francisco where participants walked across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

From only 400 people in the first year - participation numbers have now spread to 120,000 worldwide.

"It's a really nice event and people walk and talk about suicide and their experiences along the way," said a spokesperson for Pieta House.

"To feel the energy and the support of 120,000 people at our back is over-whelming. This is the Irish at their very best and it gives us the courage and confidence to continue doing the work of Pieta House," said Joan Freeman, founder of Pieta House, at the event in the Phoenix Park, Dublin.

"The relationship between Pieta House and the community, although forged in tragedy, provides so much hope for individuals and families throughout the country," she added.

This is the fourth year that Darkness Into Light is being sponsored by Electric Ireland.

Speaking at the event at Malahide Castle, Jim Dollard, executive director of Electric Ireland, said: "This year has been the biggest year yet and the event is … successfully driving conversations around suicide and self-harm while representing hope and solidarity for those whose lives have been impacted by these issues."

Pieta House is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

More than 20,000 people have availed of its services in the nine centres across the country - with more than 5,500 of those seeking help last year alone.

A tenth centre will open in Waterford in June this year.

The organisation provides a one-to-one therapeutic service for those who are experiencing suicidal ideation or engaging in self-harm.

A doctor's referral or a psychiatric report is not required and the service is completely free of charge.

Meanwhile, Cycle Against Suicide has called on new health minister, Simon Harris, to prioritise mental health.

On the final day of the two-week long Cycle Against Suicide, in which participants cycled from Arklow, Co Wicklow to Dublin's Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, the mental health charity called on Mr Harris to reverse the previous government's decision to divert mental health funds.

It also highlighted the fact, that 30 people have died by suicide since the cycle departed Phoenix Park, just two weeks ago.

Speaking about the figures, Cycle Against Suicide founder Jim Breen said the 1,100km event had been tinged with sadness.

"The effort is tinged with huge sadness as we reflect on the fact that 30 people, 30, have taken their lives by suicide since we started this two-week event.

"Never before, since our inception, have I seen such appetite and real desire for help at local levels."

He went on: "Our Movement is fundamentally about empowering communities to believe that it is OK not to feel OK, and mobilising these communities to actively demonstrate that it's absolutely OK to ask for help.

On our journey around the island this year, I noticed an even greater expression of solidarity towards this effort, tangible evidence that there is an appetite and desire for the work that we and others in the mental health sector do.

Describing the 14-day cycle, which passed through 85 communities, he said: "We experienced magical moments that will live with us long after the event, but also moments of deep sadness, as we were constantly reminded that no community remains untouched by loss and heartache.

"These communities and their needs, lead our efforts. In this way, it is communities, and the individuals in them, who inspire hope, and who can and will break the cycle of suicide on the island of Ireland."

The cycle, which started in Dublin on April 24, has seen a cavalcade of thousands of cyclists from all over the country, including 1,200 second-level students, wearing orange cycling jerseys to spread the organisation's message: 'It's OK not to feel OK; and it's absolutely OK to ask for help'.

Joining Jim and the other 1,000 cyclists on the final leg were former Ireland and Muster rugby star, Alan Quinlan, and 2FM DJ Colm Hayes, who have been championing Cycle Against Suicide since its foundation in 2013.

The 2FM DJ said: "It really is a pleasure and a privilege to be part of Cycle Against Suicide, a determined movement focusing on fighting self-harm, anxiety, depression and suicide."

For further information on the mental health campaign, visit www.pieta.ie or visit www.cycleagainstsuicide.com

Sunday Independent

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