Tuesday 22 May 2018

'We don't want you to die': Taking power over suicide

End of the tunnel: Walkers in the Phoenix Park during Darkness Into Light in 2016.
End of the tunnel: Walkers in the Phoenix Park during Darkness Into Light in 2016.

From a single walk in the Phoenix Park ten years ago to 180 today, the Darkness into Light movement has spread with up to 200,000 people taking part across Ireland and the world.

Brian Higgins, CEO of the suicide crisis centre Pieta House, says the latest research shows a single suicide affects 135 people.

Four hundred and fifty people died by suicide in Ireland in 2016.

"People love Darkness Into Light because it provides that sense of community and that sense of hope," says Higgins.

The walk, he says, is really about people in their communities saying: 'we don't want any death by suicide; we don't want you to die'.

Last year Darkness Into Light raised €4.5million - one-third of Pieta House's annual income. The charity works in suicide and self-harm prevention, suicide intervention and in bereavement support for people who have lost a loved one through suicide.

It employs 240 psychotherapists in 14 centres throughout the country who work with people in crisis.

"We want to stop people becoming suicidal in the first place so we have moved into the prevention space.," says Higgins.

"36,000 people have come through the doors of Pieta House in the last 12 years. 7,117 came last year. That's 20pc of everyone we've ever seen. I think that rise is a good thing and it's because of Darkness Into Light."

Peter O'Loughlin from Dublin's Malahide lost his sister Andrea to suicide in 2016.

Today he was in the Phoenix Park with thousands of others walking from Darkness Into Light.

There was a year-and-a-half between them and while the siblings hadn't been particularly close as children, Andrea's battle with her mental health brought them much closer in adulthood.

"She was in a dark place and she'd attempted suicide on multiple occasions in various forms. It got worse as she got older. It didn't get any easier for her," says Peter.

He says he can't describe what losing his sister has been like. "If you haven't experienced it you can't put it into words. You live with it and you learn to deal with it," he says.

Peter first did Darkness Into Light in 2015, the year before Andrea died. "For me the walk is about solidarity. It gives me a sense that Andrea's death wasn't completely in vain. It keeps Andrea's memory alive," he says.

In his workplace staff are allowed to designate a particular charity and Peter's is Pieta House and on the designated day everyone is asked to wear yellow to work.

"Walking into the canteen on that day there was a sea of yellow and I thought, 'Andrea did that'. I'm not religious and I'm not spiritual but it keeps her more alive in my memory. Because she died it means someone else might not die," says Peter.

"What Darkness Into Light is about is just seeing the light. No matter how dark it gets, it will get brighter in the end. If there's somebody there, if you can see that someone cares, hold on to that."

Peter says while the message of 'it's good to talk' is important, it's very important that the person you turn to is someone you can trust and who will honour and respect what they're being told. "You have to make sure you're talking to the right people. Talk to people you trust. Believe that you are valuable no matter who you are," he says.

Higgins believes that the cloak of secrecy around suicide was for so many years impenetrable, so it's only in more recent years that we have been able to shine a light on that secrecy.

"It's only when we name that stigma that we can take power over it and defeat it.

"Darkness Into Light is not soft and fluffy. People are saying suicide has no place in our society and no matter how bad a person thinks their issues are, they can get help," says Higgins.

Higgins uses distance as a way to measure how far people have walked to literally do their bit to stamp out suicide. Last year people doing the walk covered the equivalent of 22-and-a-half times around the world. This year people will walk over a million kilometres.

Anyhone who needs support can call the national suicide helpline run by Pieta House on 1800 247 247

Lifeline, the Northern Ireland crisis response helpline service for people who are experiencing distress or despair is on 0808 808 8000

The Samaritans operates a 24-hour helpline at Freephone 116 123, or email: jo@samaritans.ie

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