Charity CEO says its time to walk towards the light
AFTER an evening of fine dining and liberal toasts to the brightest and best in the Northern Ireland business community, there probably won't be many guests at this year's Irish News Workplace and Employment Awards who will feel like a long walk home.
But, if guest speaker Co Antrim man, Brian Higgins, has anything to do with it, there will be definitely be a shifting in seats and renewed determination to stride towards a positive workplace environment by helping fellow colleagues silently struggling with thoughts of suicide and self harm.
As CEO of suicide and self harm crisis centre, Pieta House, in Dublin, Mr Higgins is well known for his dawn walks, having just completed one of the charity's celebrated Darkness Into Light (DIL) fundraisers which earlier this month lured 150,000 people from their slumber in countries across the world.
Now, the Ballymena man, who last year undertook the 'Pieta Grand Tour' rickshaw tour across Ireland to mark 10 years of Pieta House, is passionate that we all take responsibility for "walking towards the light" in terms of better workplace awareness, support and positivity.
As well as highlighting the need for offices, shop floors and workplaces to be given a general 'stress test' to check for triggers for mental ill health, at the gala event on June 8, Mr Higgins will give an insight into the phenomenal success of the Pieta House's annual flagship fundraiser, the Darkness Into Light (DIL) walks, which have become a global movement.
Thanks to the walks, the charity, which has helped over 30,000 people since opening in 2006, is on target to raise in excess of €4 million euro (£3.5 million) to fund ongoing one-to-one free therapy sessions and operation of a vital 24-hour suicide helpline.
"The Darkness Into Light walk has really been embraced by people across the world and this year saw a huge jump in the numbers taking part in the north, with nine walks arranged in different towns," he says.
"I took part in a walk at the Skerries, Co Dublin, where 3,000 people – out of a population of 9,671 – got out of their beds when it was still dark to begin walking at 4.15 and help us raise vital funds and help tackle the stigma that leads people to the doors of Pieta House centres across Ireland."
Mr Higgins, stresses that, more than anything, the walks are a simple show of solidarity and encouragement to people to "open up" and talk about a subject which not that long ago was both a crime and a mortal sin in Ireland.
"Despite the fact that almost 500 people die by suicide each year in Ireland, there are positive changes taking place across the country and Pieta is part of that change, helping replace thoughts of suicide with thoughts of hope and actual self harm with actual self care," he adds
"The one thing we can't do though, is replace the stigma all by ourselves and that is why these Darkness Into Light walks – which first started as a 5K sponsored walk around Phoenix Park in Dublin in 2009 – are so positive in opening the conversation and showing people they are not alone.
"This positive attitude can also ripple across the workplace, whether that means making changes in relation to an equality policy or dealing more effectively with bullying and harassment.
"Small changes can make a huge difference, so we need to look and listen more carefully and place more emphasis on the individual worth of each person in the team.
"If we can bring about a general culture where people are more supportive of each other and where we remove the small obstacles in their way, then society benefits as a whole."