Suicide prevention charity Darkness into Light: Join fundraising walks across Belgium on 6 May
Suicide prevention charity Darkness into Light (DIL) has launched this year’s fundraising campaign in an emotional event at the Irish Embassy in Brussels.
Volunteers are encouraged to join organisers in a series of walks across the country at dawn on 6 May. The events aim to highlight the devastating number of people who lose their lives to suicide each year, not only in Belgium, but around the world. In addition to raising money for the suicide charity DIL in Ireland, donations will be made to Belgian charities to help maintain vital helplines.
Chair of DIL Belgium, Sarah Ironside, highlighted the necessity of keeping the conversation alive each day by supporting people with poor mental health. She recently lost two friends to suicide and mourns the loss of other close friends. “We have to keep talking about mental health and to say it is okay not to be okay,” Ironside told the audience at the launch event.
The cancer survivor has pledged to carry out 60 dawn walks herself, starting on International Women’s Day on 8 March, followed by a trek a day in the run up to her 60th birthday. She says reaching a milestone age means she’s one of the lucky ones. Ironside stressed that even the most seemingly optimistic people like herself struggle with poor mental health at times. Careful listening was the key to helping others, she added.
At the launch evening – the first official DIL live event since the pandemic – guest speakers included Mairead McGuiness, a patron of DIL and European Commissioner for Financial Stability. She was joined by Irish ambassador Kevin Conmy, several MEPs and friends and supporters of the charity, who all expressed their support the charity.
Impact of suicide on families
It was also an emotional occasion as Sarah Ironside’s close friend June Curtin (pictured below), shared her family’s experience of suicide via video link from her home in Ireland.
Without any warning, Curtin’s husband John took his own life in 2013. Her children were aged five and nine at the time and Curtin's grief resulted in acute stress and anxiety. The family’s home in a village in County Clare teeters on the tip of western Ireland. As Curtin stared out to sea one day, she told her mother that getting through grief was a matter of sink or swim. She intended to literally swim each day by plunging into the freezing Atlantic. Her mother’s response: “But June, you can’t swim!”
This detail did not deter Curtin from her goal, and she not only learned to swim, she raised thousands through her charity Snamhaí Sasta. By carrying out a series of 63 Atlantic dips over three weeks, Curtin collected over €100,000 for the Mid West Simon Community in County Clare, a cause that helps young vulnerable people.
In the years following her husband’s death, Curtin has amassed more money for DIL by committing to her daily sea dips, raising awareness and funds for this and many other good causes. The indefatigable Curtin is regularly joined by other willing yet shivering volunteers from all four corners of Ireland for a bracing swim in the Atlantic. “I leave my troubles on the shoreline, surviving each wave and I have never looked back,” she said. “Sunday’s swim has become the new mass. I just wanted to make a difference and spread a bit of kindness, I am happiest when I make a difference. We just need a bit of heart to lighten people’s burdens.”
Curtin, who has been described by her friends as “an extraordinary force,” added: “A smile can hide so much pain, so it is important to listen. Listen to someone like there is nowhere you would rather be. There are more questions than answers when someone takes their own life. I would say to people: strong is the woman who never gives up.”
Donations to local charities
Darkness into Light is now in its 14th year and raised almost €30,000 from its walks in Belgium in 2022. Around €10,000 was shared between Centre de Prevention du Suicide and the Centrum Ter Preventive Van Zelfdoding suicide prevention charities in Belgium.
Representatives gratefully accepted cheques at the launch event, expressing how the money would make a huge difference. Funds raised will go towards training counsellors to manage the helplines and partnerships with schools and colleges. Suicide remains the biggest killer of young men under the age of 25 across the world. The remaining funds raised from last year’s event have been donated to Pieta House in Dublin, the flagship centre for the Darkness Into Light charity.
Organisers would like as many people as possible to register for the 5km walk in Cinquantenaire park in Brussels, as well as locations across the country. For more details, contact: Belgium@darknessintolight.ie.
Photos: (main image) from left: HE Kevin Conmy, Ireland’s Ambassador to Belgium; Grace O’Sullivan, MEP - Ireland South; Sarah Ironside, Darkness Into Light Belgium; Commissioner Mairead McGuinness; Dominique Nothomb, Centre de Prevention du Suicide; Piet De Bruyn, Centrum ter Preventie van Zelfdoding; June Curtin Facebook page
Helplines in Belgium for people in distress
Community Help Service (CHS)
24/7 telephone hotline offering support and advice in English. Plus mental health services centre for adults, children, adolescents and families.
Helpline (in Eng): 02 648 4014
Centre de Prevention du Suicide
Helpline (in Fr): 0800 32123
Centrum Ter Preventive Van Zelfdoding
Helpline (in NL): 1813