Northern Ireland

Darkness Into Light: Thousands take part in pre-dawn walks

Darkness Into Light 2017
Image caption Candles lit at the beginning of the Black Mountain Darkness Into Light event

Thousands of people across Northern Ireland have taken part in a pre-dawn walk to raise awareness of suicide and the support services available to people affected by it.

The event marked the 10th year of the Darkness Into Light campaign.

The event is held around the world with around 200,000 people thought to have taken part on the island of Ireland.

Walkers gathered at 04:15 BST and walked through the dark before taking in the sunrise.

Separate walks took place at nine locations across Northern Ireland including Ormeau Park in Belfast, Rostrevor and Londonderry.

A walk also took place at Black Mountain on the outskirts of Belfast.

Claire McAllister, from Electric Ireland, which supports Darkness Into Light, said there was more than 1,200 at the Black Mountain event.

"We've now nine venues across the country, some of them even in a short time have nearly 1,000 people attending - it's just phenomenal."

She added: "It's really to build awareness and get people talking about mental health and suicide prevention.

"It's just trying to get rid of the stigma and, this year, push that message of kindness."

Image caption Margaret Walker said it was important people know that they can ask for help

Margaret Walker, the centre manager at Suicide Awareness and Support Group in west Belfast, said suicide support and prevention services were crucial.

"There's only a very small team of us, there's about 80 to 100 people come in and use our service every week," she said.

"I do believe we can work together and help reduce the stigma and break down the taboo.

"We need to let people know that it's OK not to feel OK and it's also OK to ask for help."

The mission of Darkness Into Light is to raise funds for the suicide and self harm charity Pieta House and partnered charities.

The event started in 2009 when 400 people walked in Phoenix Park, Dublin.

Since then, it has spread to communities across Ireland and internationally.

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