Darkness Into Light Brussels: Dawn walk to raise awareness of suicide and mental health on 7 May
Belgian campaigners for the Darkness Into Light initiative are calling for more people to join them in a series of walks on 7 May.
The annual event is taking place across Belgium - see virtual map for the venue closest to you - including Brussels’ Cinquantenaire park.
Fundraisers will be setting off before sunrise in a dawn walk that’s mirrored in towns and cities across the globe. It’s aimed at getting people to talk, but more importantly listen to those who desperately need to have their voices heard. Suicide remains the most common cause of death of young people - men and boys in particular -under the age of 25.
The Darkness into Light (DIL) initiative began in Ireland 13 years ago, but has since been adopted in five continents with the Brussels event being one of the most well-attended in the world, thanks largely to Sarah Ironside and her team.
As chair of Darkness into Light Belgium, Ironside has struggled with her own mental health and was deeply affected by the death of two close friends.
She helped launch Belgium’s 2022 Darkness into Light Belgium campaign with a frank discussion on mental health at the European Parliament in March. The Irish-born expat was joined by EU Commissioner Mairead McGuinness, patron of the event, and Roberta Metsola, president of the European Parliament.
Ironside underlined how important it was to share her own mental health struggles. Speaking at the launch, she said: “As many people who know me will confirm, I have a very optimistic and positive outlook on life. My glass is always half full, I always look for the best in every situation, I look for the light.
“Nevertheless, I have at times in my life struggled with my own mental health, I have felt despair and known the darkness. I have found it hard to find the crack and let the light in. But I have been very lucky and have been able to access support – professional support- to get me through and perhaps some of these experiences have forged my passion for discussing mental health.”
‘Sunrise walk of hope’ in local neighbourhoods
Ironside and her team have been encouraging people to do their own ‘Sunrise walk of hope’ in their neighbourhoods, accompanied by family and friends. A virtual map can be accessed so that participants can join the nearest walk to their home. Specially made T-shirts bearing the logo DIL are given to everyone who registers.
She embarked on her own personal crusade last month by walking 5km a day, dedicating each step to those affected by suicide of a loved one. Two friends were forever in her thoughts: John, who died in 2013 and former rugby club colleague Rachel Collins (pictured), who died in 2018 aged 29.
Collins, a popular and vibrant young woman was a valued member of BBRFC Celtic Rugby Club in Brussels. Many of her former team and club mates have already walked in her memory, raising money for another mental health helpline: the Community Help Service in Brussels (CHS).
They will be joining Darkness Into Light events on Saturday under the slogan ‘More than just a rugby club.’ Said Sarah: “I am so proud to be part of this club, BBRFC Celtic has been a huge support in the DIL campaign.”
Her 31st dawn walk this year was in memory of her friend. “Rachel was a beautiful person who really did live life to the fullest. She was a highly intelligent, talented, cheeky young woman and was loved by so many. People who knew her would agree that she achieved more in her 29 years than most people achieve in a lifetime.
“Despite all the happy times, the darker moments were rarely far away. All the love and support she received was not enough to save her and she fell victim to the terrible illness of depression.”
Fundraising for charities in Belgium and Ireland
Funds raised from walks in Belgium will be shared between Pieta House in Dublin – the flagship centre for the DIL cause, which offers bereavement and self-harm counselling and suicide prevention in Ireland - plus two similar helpline services in Belgium: Centre de Prevention du Suicide and the Centrum Ter Preventive Van Zelfdoding. Both charities provide urgent support and are reliant on volunteers to provide a 24/7 service. The funds raised will also go towards vital research and training in schools, in an attempt to tackle the core reasons behind the high number of suicides among the young.
“We should never be afraid to talk to each other and to ask people if they are okay,” said Ironside. Young people today are facing enormous challenges. I know of three teenagers who have taken their own lives recently. We should be ready to talk, but most importantly, we should be ready to listen to one another.
“Suicide doesn’t end the chances of life getting worse, it eliminates the possibility of it ever getting better.”