80,000 run at dawn for anti-suicide fundraiser
Event takes place as study shows mental health stigma still exists
Tens of thousands of people across the country greeted dawn yesterday to support the Darkness Into Light event for suicide awareness.
Organisers believe the numbers taking part could have topped 80,000 with people converging on around 40 venues across Ireland, including one of the biggest at Dublin's Phoenix Park.
Participants gathered at 4.15am to complete a 5km walk or run just as dawn was breaking.
The fundraiser, which is now in its sixth year, also took place in Sydney and London.
The event raises money for Pieta House, the centre for the prevention of self-harm or suicide, which has been open since 2006.
The event took place against a backdrop of new research which shows Irish people are still afraid to admit they suffer from mental health problems like depression – especially at work.
Despite an increase in awareness around mental health in recent years, the stigma surrounding the issue is on the increase with 56 per cent of Irish people saying they would not want others to know if they had a mental health problem, a rise of 50 per cent from 2010 figures.
According to Mental Health Ireland's campaign, See Change, 28 per cent of Irish people would delay seeking treatment for fear of someone else knowing about their mental health problem, 41 per cent would hide a mental health issue from friends and 24 per cent would conceal it from their family.
The research by See Change has been released as a part of Ireland's national Green Ribbon Campaign during the month of May to get more people to open up about mental health problems.
The report also showed that 57 per cent of Irish people believe being that open about mental health in the workplace would have a negative impact on their careers.
Gary Seery, 38, is IT director at Hibernia Networks. After suffering from bouts of depression which left him suicidal throughout 2009, Mr Seery began to use marathon running to keep his mind, as well as his body, fit.
"I lost a sense of who I was and what I wanted to do," he explained. "I knew I wasn't well. It all came to a head around about September time when I was really heavily depressed. I was suicidal and very much prepared to go and take my life. I was just so sad and afraid.
"The fear is unbelievable," Gary added. "It's a fear of why you are feeling that way and why you can't snap yourself out of it. It's a fear of who do you tell or how do you tell people."
Gary was most afraid of his father's reaction to the illness.
"My dad would be old school, an inner-city Dub," Gary explains. "So to turn around and tell him that you have depression was like telling him you have three legs, but he was probably the person who surprised me the most. I was absolutely terrified of what his reaction might be, but he was an unbelievable support and it totally changed my relationship with him. That was a real lesson for me in terms of how we presume people might react to things."
Gary tackled his depression by first seeking help from his GP who prescribed him anti-depressants. He then began to exercise.
For the last two years Gary has not needed medication and wants others to know that the fear of stigma is often something built up in the mind of the sufferer, rather than the reality in many families and workplaces.
"Having depression has totally transformed my life for a number of reasons and all very positive reasons," Gary said. "I wouldn't want anybody to get depression, but if they do, I want them to know that you can just totally change where you are. I'm not anything special, I'm just a normal bloke who decided I didn't want to commit suicide and I wanted to move on. It's made me a much better husband, a much better father and a much better person to be around."
When 21-year-old UCD student Zoe Forde was diagnosed with depression during her first year of college, she realised that it was something she had been suffering from for years.
"After I was diagnosed I realised I had suffered from it throughout secondary school as well," Zoe explained. "I had moved from Monaghan to Dublin for college and it was my first time away from home, so at first I thought it was just that, but it got worse in the run up to Christmas. I completely lost my appetite and wasn't sleeping. I would just sit in my lectures and cry."
Zoe sought help from her GP, who referred her to a psychiatrist and she received counselling for a number of months.
"I didn't get better immediately, two to three months later I was still very low, but I managed to eventually lift myself out of it and in my second year of college when I became involved in mental health awareness I met people who understood it and learned to look after myself more."