The Darkness into Light movement will mark its ninth birthday on May 6 at over 100 venues worldwide including Abu Dhabi and Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

ABU DHABI: At the crack of dawn on May 6 the UAE will join the rest of the world on a walk to raise awareness about mental health. The walk is part of the Darkness into Light (DIL) initiative by Ireland-based NGO Pieta House, which works towards prevention of suicide and self-harm, and extending support to individuals in distress and their families.

Making its debut in UAE, the event is being held in partnership with the Al Jalila Foundation. The 5km walk will begin at 4.30am at the Nation Riviera Beach Club, Corniche in Abu Dhabi and the Kite Beach in Dubai.

The spark

The event is the culmination of two years of hard work by Maria Kelly, an Irish teacher based in Abu Dhabi, who initiated the DIL movement here after witnessing first-hand the dramatic difference the event made on public perceptions of mental health in Ireland.

“If we physically injured ourselves, we would go straight to the doctor. So why don’t we treat our mental health with the same level of priority?” she asked.

Along with her team of dedicated volunteers, she strived relentlessly to bring the movement to the UAE which eventually led to the partnership with the Al Jalila Foundation.

“We are delighted to be the charity partner of the DIL and part of a global movement to give voice to people suffering from mental illness,” said Dr Abdulkareem Sultan Al Olama, CEO of Al Jalila Foundation.

“Barriers such as stigma and discrimination prevent people with mental illness from seeking help, resulting in cases going untreated. Community events like the DIL walk will give hope and healing to many,” he added.

According to the World Health Organisation, depression is the leading cause of mental disability worldwide and affects 350 million people today.

“We live in times when mental illness and suicides are commonplace but still not addressed with the gravity they deserve. DIL provides a chance to take that ‘step’ forward and raise awareness about this serious issue,” said Al Olama. Al Jalila Foundation, in partnership with The Carter Center, is also offering the UAE Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism to create a national conversation on mental illness in the UAE.

Lead into Light

When it was launched in 2009, DIL was a single event in Phoenix Park in Dublin, with only a few hundred participating. Now it has spanned across all continents. “Every man, woman and child that I know back in Ireland gets out of their beds for this event. Most people know someone experiencing mental illness. The difficult step for such people is asking for help. We want to make this step easier and include the whole community in it,” said Kelly, who is the chairperson of Darkness into Light, Abu Dhabi.

“The event is the start of something very special here in the UAE. Of course, it would be amazing to have a body like Pieta House here which offers services free of charge to those in need, but that is something that will take time,” said Kelly, who is pursuing a Masters in Mental Health Recovery and Social Inclusion.