During what felt like the longest winter in the pandemic, for many of us, going for a daily walk felt like the best part of our day; that little bit of respite from our four walls to breathe in the fresh air, take a break from work and connect with ‘the outside world’ again.
The Mental Health Foundation’s research into the effects of lockdown on mental health showed that going for walks was our top coping strategy, which is why it’s no surprise that nature is this year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness week 2021 taking place this May.
It is for those reasons that Pieta’s Darkness Into Light fundraising event felt particularly poignant this year for our Gemserv Ireland team. The event sees hundreds of thousands of people wake in the early hours of the morning to walk before sunrise to raise money for the Irish charity, which runs a one-to-one therapeutic service to people who are in suicidal distress, engage in self-harm or have been bereaved by suicide.
When I found out that fundraising just €20 would pay for a specialist therapist to answer two calls to someone in crisis, I knew that my alarm clock was going to be set for the early hours of Saturday 8th May and I was thrilled when a number of my colleagues at Gemserv also signed up to walk. I had visions of myself walking into the glorious sight of the sun rising out of the Irish Sea, perfect for the mandatory Twitter #SunriseSelfie, and thinking of my colleagues enjoying similar glorious scenes in the UK.
So… in the wee hours of the morning, I arrived (half awake!) in my village of Termonfeckin (yes, I know, hilarious) on the east coast before the sun came up to walk across the beach.
It perhaps wasn’t quite the peaceful stroll I imagined, as I found myself contending with 60kph blistering winds with hailstones pelting down. But knowing that my colleagues Lizzie, Harry, Simon and Miriam were out there with me, also getting drenched on their walks, subconsciously drove me on.
Despite the weather, it was a fantastic experience. Marvelling at the power of the sea, as most were still tucked up in bed, uniting with friends and strangers for a wonderful cause and experiencing the darkness turn to light with the sunrise, which although behind cloud, was still a thing of beauty. A true image of hopefulness.
As we emerge from the pandemic and restrictions begin to lift, we are sadly now left with the aftermath of thousands of people being unable to access appropriate mental health support and a health system struggling to support demand.
It is no surprise to hear that suicidal thoughts amongst the UK population has risen to 13% (February, 2021) and in Ireland, a 2019 report recorded almost 12,500 presentations of self harm that year. Which is why charities like Pieta will forever need our support.
For this year’s Darkness into Light, we collectively raised an amazing €1,149, which Gemserv has kindly agreed to match-fund, thus taking our total to €2,298. We’re grateful to anyone who has donated and if you haven’t yet, you can still donate here.
There are small things we can all do to look out for each other a little more and I encourage you to think about what that may be: give that neighbour five minutes of your time, wish the person who served you a good day or simply ask a colleague how they’re doing.
It may just make someone’s day a little brighter.