When personal tragedy struck, Irish expat Maria Kelly became inspired to educate people about mental health.
In 2015, she brought to the UAE Darkness Into Light – the annual walking event and community group from Ireland that helps raise funds to support international charities in suicide prevention and awareness. Features writer Ferdinand Godinez chats with the teacher to learn more about her touching experience and how far we have come in making people more aware about mental health
Tell us about the concept of Darkness Into Light?
It’s a voluntary initiative, which strives to build a community network that supports people working through their mental health difficulties by providing hope, acceptance, encouragement and understanding. Our mission is to improve the quality of life for those suffering in darkness through spreading mental health awareness, cultivating community support and identifying accessible and effective helping services. We do this by organising free events for the community, which provide support and advice for those in need.
Why is this cause close to your heart?
At a young age, we lost a family member to suicide and her loss is still very much felt to this day. So, this is a cause that resonates with all of us.
My mum helped set up this walk for the first time in our local village back in Ireland and I was honestly inspired by the amount of time that she gave to this worthwhile cause and I wanted to do the same.
In 2015, I sent a message out to my friends in Abu Dhabi asking if anyone would be interested in forming a committee to bring the global Darkness Into Light walk to the UAE.
I was blown away with the response and I guess the rest is history. I am so thankful every day for the wonderful people who have joined the committee since then, as it is their energy and belief in the cause that has gotten it this far.
Why is it important to raise awareness about mental health?
For anyone suffering from a mental health illness, the most difficult first step is talking about it.
Raising awareness for this issue opens doors for those who are suffering. It also educates those of us who do not quite understand mental illness and how we can support those experiencing difficulty.
We are often most scared of what we do not know and education is key in knocking down barriers that prevent those most vulnerable to illness from getting the help they deserve.
Is progress being made here in the UAE in making people more aware about mental health?
Absolutely! When I arrived in the UAE six years ago, most people were fearful of even verbalising the word ‘suicide’. Now look how far we have come.
On a daily basis we see newspaper articles, radio interviews, community events, research programmes, support services and much more working on educating people about mental health and supporting our community. For sure there is a lot more work to be done but together we are making headway.
What more can we do to make sure that we’re addressing this issue?
There needs to be a free and accessible support service in the UAE for those experiencing difficulty and for those who are in crisis. This is exactly what Darkness Into Light is working on.
However, we cannot do this alone and require patronage or charity status to succeed in meeting the growing demand for our services.
Darkness Into Light will always be a community initiative led by the community. However, we do need the support of the UAE government to continue building this platform and sustain the support that is desperately needed by so many.
What would be your advice to people who are going through depression?
Talk about it – talk to a family member, friend, colleague. Reach out to Darkness Into Light.
I guarantee that you are not alone. There is always a listening ear, a professional or even someone who may be experiencing something similar to what you are going through at Darkness Into Light. We are here for you because your mental wellbeing is very important to us.