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Sunday 22 July 2018

They walked towards sunrise to end the stigma of suicide

Paddy and Geraldine Whelan who walked with their dogs. Photos: Harry Murphy
Paddy and Geraldine Whelan who walked with their dogs. Photos: Harry Murphy
Conor and Jennifer McIntyre with children Jennifer and Nina in the Phoenix Park Photos: Harry Murphy
Jerome Reilly

Jerome Reilly

Darkness into Light has become a potent symbol in the fight to prevent suicide.

And 200,000 walkers and runners from across Ireland and four continents met the sun's first rays yesterday to show their support.

Many thousands took part in the annual Darkness into Light events across the country - from An Cheathru Rua in Connemara to Youghal in Co Cork.

The symbolic 5km walk or run promotes suicide prevention and seeks to tackle the stigma that leads people to the doors of Pieta House centres.

Now in its 10th year, the charity event took place in 180 venues across Ireland and worldwide.

Together participants walked more than one million kilometres in a march against suicide, self-harm and the stigma associated with mental health difficulties.

Events in Ireland began at 4.15am, as thousands walked as the sun came up.

Funds raised from the walk here will go towards Pieta House's counselling services.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was one of the 15,000 dawn walkers who watched the sun rise in Dublin's Phoenix Park.

Dublin Bus organised a free early-morning shuttle service at Parkgate Street from 2am until 7am.

In Galway, yoga sessions kicked off the event at Salthill with an estimated 10,000 people taking part in the coastal walk.

In Maynooth, Co Kildare, more than 2,000 people gathered in Maynooth University and walked towards the rising sun taking in the picturesque Carton walk which links Carton House with the town of Maynooth. Many were there to remember lost friends and family members. Local restaurants and coffee shops opened to cater for those who completed the fund-raiser.

There were also walks on the islands, including Arranmore, Clare Island, Inishbofin, Inis Meain and Inis Mor.

Dawn walks also took place in Hong Kong; Wellington, New Zealand; Warsaw, Poland; and Reykjavik, Iceland; with the help of Irish people living abroad.

Last year Darkness Into Light raised €4.5m - one-third of Pieta House's annual income. That figure should be exceeded this year.

Suicide is a leading cause of death, particularly in young people. Some 450 people took their own lives in 2016. The HSE estimate there are about 12,000 attempted suicides each year in Ireland.

Pieta House was founded in 2006 and now has services across Ireland. It offers free counselling to those suffering from suicidal thoughts, those who have been bereaved by suicide and people who are engaging in self-harm. In 2016 alone, almost 6,000 people came through their doors.

The first Darkness into Light event was held in Phoenix Park in 2009 where 400 people attended. A decade on, more than 15,000 people were joined by Mr Varadkar and Brian Higgins, chief executive of Pieta House, along the 5km route through the city park yesterday morning.

Pieta House offers a suicide bereavement liaison service - and their freecall 24/7 suicide helpline number is 1800 247 247.

Sunday Independent

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