Is there anyone who doesn’t have some sort of mental health issue these days? Between the heat settling down over the UAE, too much screen time and stress about personal relationships or a deluge of work, it almost seems that way.
While therapy or some form of professional help is a good idea, it’s not for everyone. Also, at Dh800 and more a session, it’s not accessible to most people, either.
Enter Darkness Into Light, an organization launched in 2009 by a pair of Irish brothers who lost their mother to suicide that has since grown to more than 180 chapters across the world, including one right here in the UAE.
Maria Kelly, a math teacher with the Abu Dhabi Education Council, launched DIL in Abu Dhabi in 2015, later partnering with the Al Jalila Foundation. Support for mental health issues and suicide prevention are the main goals.
Mental illness is an epidemic, says Kelly, and Darkness Into Light UAE aims to provide whatever support it can for those who are suffering.
“The only way we can tackle this crisis is together – in our communities, in our places of work, in the sports clubs we are part of,” she says. “With the help of our community, we can improve the quality of life for those suffering.”
In addition to free monthly Tea & Talks, volunteers across the country will be getting up very early on Saturday morning for the annual Darkness Into Light walk, which is held every year on May 11.
This year four venues will host the event in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Al Ain and Ras Al Khaimah.
Each event is open to anyone who wishes to participate; they only need to register and then gather at 3.45am for the 5km walk.
Why so early? Simple symbolism. Organizers say walking from darkness through to dawn represents the journey from despair to hope, highlighting the struggles of those suffering in the darkness from a mental illness, celebrating hope and removing stigma.
Just as the organization’s monthly Tea & Talks provide a safe space for people to listen and share, the walk aims to address that sense of isolation that seems to be so pervasive, says Laura Brennan, director for therapeutic provision for Darkness into Light UAE
“As we know from the abundance of research, people who feel lonely or isolated are at higher risk of developing depression,” she says. “This walk unites all people in the community as a symbol of hope for those who may feel that they are alone in their suffering. We hope that this event will be a catalyst for improvement in the lives of those suffering and empower those in need to ask for the help.”
More than 100 volunteers are manning the event, while 2,000 people are expected to participate across the four venues — 1,000 of them in Abu Dhabi. Organizers hope to raise Dh200,000 through donations, up from Dh160,000 raised last year. The funds will go towards mental health research and treatment.
Kelly, who also has a master’s degree in mental health and recovery and social inclusion, says donations help provide professional therapy, which isn’t covered under most health plans.
In the meantime, the free Tea & Talks are a bridge for people who are struggling in a variety of ways.
“It’s supposed to be basically a stepping stone for those who haven’t been able to talk about it, says Kelly. “It’s going to make it easier for them to talk about it and get the help that they need.”
Register here for the 2019 Darkness Into Light Walk, which begins at 3.45am Saturday at four locations: Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, Kite Beach in Dubai, Green Mubazzarah Park in Al Ain and Al Marjan Island in Ras Al Khaimah.
Featured photo Darkness Into Light
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.