In 2006 in Dublin ‘Pieta House’ was founded to provide freely accessible one-to-one counseling to people who suffer from anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harming and other mental problems. In order to help this office to continue working and developing in 2009 was established the first ‘Darkness into Light’ in the Phoenix Park in Dublin.

‘Darkness into Light’ is a 5 km walk which starts in the early morning in one place and finishes at the same. The concept of it belongs to one couple whose son died from suicide and they thought about the beautiful idea of symbolically walking into the rising Sun. On the first event 400 people came, and in 2018 over 200 000 people participated in this walk in 150 locations, in 16 countries. This year this event takes part in Switzerland, Sweden, Bahrain, Australia, Hong Kong, Belgium and a lot of other countries.

11 May of 2019 was the second ‘Darkness into Light’ in Belgium. We started in the early morning, at 5 o’clock, when it was still dark, at the Arcade du Cinquantenaire, Brussels, and finished when it was already bright. Despite the rain, 875 people came there to support the Pieta House, two Belgian organisations, ‘Centre de Prévention du Suicide’ and ‘Centrum ter preventive van zelfdoding’, and to remove the stigma which surrounds mental health.

People were walking through the darkness and quietly talking on the specially prepared path. We left the park and entered it from the other side of the arch. Surprisingly, there were a lot of little children, and the youngest walker was born in December last year. The whole our way was decorated with candles and little lights by the volunteers.

© Ekaterina Korneva

In the park was a 1 km corridor of silence. People don’t make a lot of noise but still they talk a little, but after the sign ‘Walk a kilometer in my shoes’, they were asked to be quiet. We were walking on this corridor of trees, where candles were handled like in the air between sleeves and beneath those were shoes. Just shoes of people: boots, running shoes, sandals… It all reminded us why we were there: to remember about those who had taken their lives. That is really powerful. Some people were quietly crying.

© Ekaterina Korneva

© Ekaterina Korneva

Last year the weather was better, and people actually saw the Sun rising at the end of their way. That reminded that life goes on, despite everything that happened in people’s life there is always happiness and the reason to continue living. Sarah Ironside, chairman of ‘Darkness into Light’, says about last year kilometer silence: ‘Everyone is completely quiet, but children aren’t. They are running around, laughing and having fun. It is a lovely sound to hear, it takes you out of sadness, a good reminder that the life goes on, it is not the end.’

When the walk finished, people started talking about their feelings and what happened in their lives. Some compared this year with the previous and were happy that this time the event became more popular in Belgium.

Volunteer at the walk in Brussels © Ekaterina Korneva

How did it start in Belgium? In 2017 Sarah Ironside, works at the European Commission, and some of her friends decide to make Darkness into Light happen in Brussels. Why it’s important for her: ‘I’ve seen the impact of suicide and I also feel really passionate that people don’t talk enough about mental health. We easily discuss our physical problems but not mental such as feeling down, feeling depressed. I think that we should change the way how we look at it’ – said Ironside.

‘Darkness into Light’ starts many conversations, people become more open. ‘On the event I met people who survived suicide, who are so happy today that they didn’t succeed that time. At the walk I met really briefly a man, we just exchanged greetings. And one hour later he sent me a message ‘Thank you, three years ago I survived’. That made me cry that how wonderful that he came there with his daughter and celebrate still being alive’

‘The song that we use for our video is called ‘Live again’ of Melissa James. It’s a powerful song with fascinating lyrics which is about living again. In our video there are people who explain why they are walking; they open their personal stories’ – says Ironside. ‘There is always a personal reason for taking part in this project’.

Last year 590 people registered to attend the ‘Darkness into Light’ in Brussels and raised €58,016. Half of this money goes to Ireland, Pieta House, the second part, which is around €13 000, is shared between two Belgian’s organizations: Centrum ter Preventie van Zelfdoding and Centre de Prevention de suicide. Ironsides mentions:‘For the Flemish organization it meant that they could afford a help-line which went from 12 hours per day to 24 hours per day.

If you feel depressed or have suicidal thoughts or know a person who needs help and support, you might call a hotline which suits you the best from the list on the website Suicide.org

Text and photos: © Ekaterina Korneva