NI women's captain Marissa Callaghan backing walks from Darkness Into Light

Marissa Callaghan, NI Women's soccer captain, is an ambassador for this year's Darkness into Light campaign.

"When you actually go up, and it's pitch black, then you get to the top and the sun comes up and the light shines through, in that moment you do feel a little bit of hope."


Northern Ireland women's soccer skipper Marissa Callaghan is a leader on the pitch, and off it she's hoping more people will follow her, from 'Darkness Into Light'.

The event returns this weekend, as the sun rises on Saturday morning, May 7, with 16 organised walks throughout all of the six counties to publicise and support 14 different mental health and suicide prevention charities.

Electric Ireland is the appropriate sponsor partnering with Pieta House, who are calling for the public to raise funds for life-saving work in therapy and intervention services for those affected by suicide.

Belfast woman Callaghan knows the need for such support: "The suicide rates here in Northern Ireland are so high. I'm from west Belfast and I think at one point there was one [suicide] a week. Now I live in north Belfast and it's the same thing, the [suicide] rates are so high."

The Cliftonville captain knows at close hand how suicide can affect lives:

"I have friends who tried and came out the other end. They're doing absolutely amazing now. In my late teens, early 20s, I had a few friends who had it rough.

"One particular friend, she struggled with her mental health, has a lot of anxiety. She lost two close friends to suicide, close together, and that really affected her, she hit a real low.

"Lucky enough, she was always open, I was pretty close to her and she did open up to me. We went together to seek help when she needed it, and she came out the other end."

Seeking help, talking about what's concerning them, can offer a solution to those contemplating suicide, says Callaghan:

"I think it's important for people to tell their stories, for boys and girls, or anyone, going through it, to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It's not always going to be dark days.

"A lot of people who do speak up, the theme you hear from them is that the darkness doesn't last forever and there's definitely a way out if we just talk more about it."

'Darkness into Light' offers assistance and guidance, she says: "I think it's an amazing programme that we have running, and to have a day every year that it happens. Myself and Paula, my partner, we did the Cavehill [walk] last year.

"When you actually go up, and it's pitch black, then you get to the top and the sun comes up and the light shines through, in that moment you do feel a little bit of hope. I know that sounds cheesy, but it's a fantastic initiative."

The 36-year-old, who has a two-year-old son, is maternal towards the younger members of the NI squad, although she knows doubts and worries can afflict people of all ages:

"In sport, especially elite sport, you are mentally up and down, because you're in a high pressure environment.

"Especially in our senior squad, we're training full-time together every day, everyone wants to compete at their best, because we want to make the Euros squad. We have moments when we're high, moments when we're low.

"We are a tight-knit 'family': because we spend every day together you sense if somebody's 'off', 'she doesn't seem right', so you make sure you get a chat with them. Because we spend so much time together, we know each other that well, we can sense when someone needs an arm round them. We help each other through any hard times."

Callaghan is particularly concerned for teenagers at the moment, due to the adverse effects of the Covid-19 lockdowns on their social development:

"Looking back, teenager years are the hardest years, I think. You can feel so awkward, and you're going through so many changes.

"To have a pandemic in the middle of that, where you're basically not allowed to go out or be around people and see friends, a lot of people are still stuck in that rut.

"When I was in groups, or meeting new people, you used to be really awkward. Some kids have missed two years of doing that, it's scary. With phones now, some only communicate through text messages and social media, they're not actually speaking face to face.

"It has been a difficult time, not only for the youngsters for us all, but I do feel for the young people who've had to go through that and miss their social events, miss school, miss their sports."

See for further information and venues for the walks this weekend.

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