Over 100,000 Irish all over Ireland and across the world including New York, Washington and Chicago took part in the Darkness Into Light walk on Saturday May 9th to help prevent suicide.
The New York march commenced at 4 15 am and was attended by over 800 Irish American supporters of the Pieta House project. The 5k kilometer (3.1 miles) march started at Gaelic Park and went through Van Cortlandt Park before returning to the GAA venue.
Irish Diaspora Minister Jimmy Deenihan took part in the New York eventA Pieta House suicide counseling facility is to be set up at the Irish Center in Queens and will prove a massive help for many Irish who suffer from suicidal thoughts.
The annual Darkness Into Light 5K walk is Pieta House’s signature fundraiser, and this year 80 locations in Ireland and abroad played host to some 100,,000 participants determined to lift the stigma attached to suicide and mental illnesses.
The organization’s founder, Joan Freeman, who lost a sister to suicide, said recently in New York the Irish used to be slow to acknowledge the destructive path suicide was wreaking on their doorstep.
“When we opened in 2006 so many doors were slammed in our face. People didn’t want to know about an alternative way to help those in need, but we soldiered on,” Freeman said.
Pieta House started with a staff of four in a small Dublin office. Now 180 people work for the organization throughout Ireland, counseling people as young as six and as old as 80-plus who find themselves in deep distress. The annual operating budget is €5 million, 90 percent of which comes from fundraising.
“The topic of suicide is no longer the stigma and the curse it was 10 years ago, and while we will never normalize the act of suicide, people are not afraid to talk about it,” Freeman said.
The move to New York was a logical one, Freeman added.
“This collaboration is one of the most wonderful opportunities. We want to go to the Irish wherever they are,” she said.
The Irish government approved a grant of €70,000 to fund the New York expansion of Pieta House.
“It’s okay to say that you can’t cope, to say that you need help,” Irish Consul General Barbara Jones told guests at a recent reception.
“We know we won’t get everyone, but we will help more people than we have ever helped before.”
Paul Finnegan, executive director of the New York Irish Center, said Pieta House’s mission aligns perfectly with the goals of the center, which last year completed a renovation of its space.
“We basically decided we would go forth and create a social care element in our organization. When we thought of the things we should be looking at in our community, the word suicide kept coming up more and more,” Finnegan said.
The New York GAA has lent its support to the expansion of Pieta House in New York. Development officer Simon Gillespie pointed out that the suicide crisis in Ireland “seems to disproportionately affect men,” and that the GAA is eager to promote awareness.