Monday, May 09, 2022

Photo: Noel Browne


Editorial first published in May 10th edition of the Waterford News & Star

AWARENESS builds gradually and change comes slowly. This is particularly the case in relation to mental health. It was wonderful to see thousands of people once again join together in the early hours of Saturday morning, May 7, for the Darkness Into Light walks in the city and Dungarvan, Pieta’s annual fundraiser.

For many, it has been a particularly long number of years since this event was last held, in the presence of the crowds of people it had come to be known for. During the pandemic, it settled into a more solitary exercise, linked by the modern phenomenon of social media. But Darkness Into Light is about so much more than just raising money and sharing photos online. The experience itself can be cathartic for its participants.


‘We were not a nation replete with compassion when it came to supporting those when they needed support most’


Those who have lost loved ones join together with those who are experiencing their own struggles with their mental health, and those who just want to be there, to show solidarity and recognition that being open about our mental health should be as normal as pouring milk on cornflakes.

Darkness Into Light has been criticised for being more of a superficial outward show of support, rather than going deep enough to catalyse change. However, this is to overlook how deeply entrenched our society’s lack of understanding of mental health was heretofore.

We were not a nation replete with compassion when it came to supporting those when they needed support most. Suicide was a dark word, caught up in a more fire and brimstone type of Catholic teaching. We have been slowly undoing the damage of such attitudes for decades, and Darkness Into Light is just the latest manifestation of that journey. It was never going to offer a magical societal remedy, as that hard work must take place in so many ways. Behind the doors of our homes, in our schools, in our workplaces, in the places we socialise and interact, in our clubs and community settings.

There are various types of stepping up when it comes to mental health. For the person experiencing mental health issues it is a deeply personal journey to firstly recognise and then take the steps to reach out and seek out the proper support needed. Finding self-knowledge, self-awareness and the people and tools that will help you is not straightforward, it is hard work and involves a leap of faith into the unknown.

Along the way, if family, friends, work colleagues, medical personnel, indeed society as a whole, don’t keep pace to meet the individual’s need it can be an arduous and frightening place, with trust easily broken.

Those who recognise that they are not ok and take the steps to help themselves are truly brave, and actually carving paths to make it easier for others.

In turn, the better mental health journey that follows is not just that of the individual who has done the hard work, but all those around them. The ripples can be profound and positive.

Often, it starts with a cup of tea, a walk, an understanding smile, kindness. Listening to truly hear, to begin that journey from darkness into light.

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