Help light the way for those who need it most in our community

We take a look at an event that aims to shed light on the stigma of mental illness

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It’s estimated that one in four people globally suffer from mental health issues. Three hundred million alone live with depression.

And whether it’s a family member, friend, colleague or even you, there’s a strong chance that you’ll know someone who has been caught in its grip at some stage.

It’s with this in mind that at 4.30am on Saturday 6th May, crowds will gather along the Corniche with one goal: to raise awareness of mental health with the international Darkness into Light 5km walk.

For the Abu Dhabi chapter of the event, funds raised will go towards Al Jalila Foundation, a non-profit organisation that supports medical research and education across the UAE.

At the same time, across boundaries, time zones and cultures, others will be doing the same thing, and fundraising to support awareness everywhere from Canada to New Zealand.

Darkness into Light began in Dublin, Ireland in 2009. Established by charity Pieta House, the walk begins at the blackest point of night and ends as day breaks, symbolising a message of hope and support for those struggling with mental illness.

And just as mental illness does not discriminate for race, creed, gender or age, neither does Darkness into Light, and all are invited to take part and support the cause.

“Probably the biggest misconception about mental illness is that it happens to other people,” says Dr David Lee, lead consultant clinical psychologist at Camali Clinic, a facility for child and adult mental health.

“All of us are vulnerable. Mental health is a part of all of us, whether we’re talking about the positive side and we’re happy or we’re affected by our circumstances.”

And for those most vulnerable, whether it’s a fear of stigma from peers or refusal to admit they’re struggling, many cases of mental illness often go undiagnosed until it’s too late.

“It’s a major problem,” says Dr Lee on the difficulty some sufferers face on seeking treatment. “For many people, it’s a sign of weakness and vulnerability. There’s a culture that if you’re open about mental health, then you don’t fit in.”

For some, this feeling of not fitting in is compounded in everyday circumstances, such as the workplace or with friends.

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“People feel like they may be seen as unable to function, or that they will become a risk,” Dr Lee adds. “It’s all about labels and the misunderstanding that if you have a diagnosis, it means that you have a brain disorder – it’s a lot more intricate than that.

“It’s often due to a wide range of factors; it could be biological, it could be emotional, or it could be social or environmental issues. These problems don’t occur on their own.”

With a lack of awareness one of the key reasons why mental illness continues to be stigmatised, Dr Lee says that the focus should be on educating society first.

“Mental health is an international issue,” he explains. “We need to promote the need for better mental health services and break the stigma so we’re able to talk about it.

“Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. It’s about education, it’s about communication and it’s about community movements like this that help people have an open dialogue.

“The UAE is fertile ground for this – and could be a real forerunner in terms of mental health education.

“Only once we’ve accomplished that can we start to break the stigma and end the discrimination.”

Darkness into Light takes place on Saturday 6th May from 3.45am on the Corniche opposite Nation Riviera Beach Club. Tickets cost AED 96.50. Visit: dil.pieta.ie, bit.ly/2oftlYf

Useful contacts

Al Jalila Foundation 800 2552 5452, aljalilafoundation.ae
Camali Clinic 02 658 2221, camaliclinic.com
American Center for Psychiatry and Neurology 800 2276, americancenteruae.com
Louis Smith Foundation facebook.com/thelouissmithfoundation

WORDS Camille Hogg
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