Community Group Lends Support To People With Mental Illness

Abu Dhabi: A community group based in the capital is hoping to raise more awareness around the subject of mental illness, with the goal of rallying support around the people who suffer from the condition.

Founded two years ago, the community organisation, Darkness into Light, is the official Abu Dhabi chapter for the Ireland-based Pieta House, an NGO that provides free counselling services to prevent suicide and self-harm.

“We are just a group of volunteers who came together to form this volunteering organisation because we felt that it was something that was needed in the UAE. Our main goal is to provide a platform for people to talk about mental health, without having to face any judgements, and with the community supporting them,” said Maria Kelly, an Irish expatriate who helped found the group.

“For people that are suffering from mental illness it is very important for them to not feel alone, and I think one of the most difficult steps is to ask for help, and so I believe it’s down to every single one of us within the community to make that step easier for them,” she added.

“People should feel that they can talk about their problem without any negative judgements towards them, but unfortunately there is this negative stigma attached with mental illness which makes it harder for them to come forward, and this really is a worldwide problem,” she said.

In May, the group organised a 5km walk in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in partnership with the Al Jalila Foundation, with the walk being one of several that was held around the world to raise awareness on mental health.

“The walk is our main event to raise awareness and support for people with mental illness, and the one we did in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in May was our first in two years. We hope to now make this an annual event after the successful launch of our first walk,” Kelly said.

“We received a lot of support for our first walk — in total we had about 1,000 people who joined us in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The event put a good spotlight on mental health, and since then we have had a lot of people approaching us through our social media page asking how they can get involved, so it’s a great reflection on our wonderful community,” she added.

Kelly said that the group was now hoping to organise other events to continue raising awareness and support on mental health.

“We want to organise and hold other events and to make this grow into something bigger, and to get the subject of mental health out into the open. Along with our main walk, we have held smaller events like fund-raisers for the walk, and these smaller events have also given us an opportunity to get together as a community to raise more awareness on the subject.”

Kelly also noted that some of the group’s main supporters were friends and family of people who were suffering from mental illness, and that the group allowed them to meet with people who had been affected by the same situation.

“The majority of people who support us are people that have been affected by suicide, whether it was someone from their family or someone they knew in the community, and our support from them is getting bigger and bigger because they appreciate a group like this that is putting a spotlight on the cause,” she said.

“They were grateful also because they could come out and talk to each other about how they have been affected, some of them had just recently lost loved ones, so they needed to talk about it and were just grateful that there was a space for that,” she added.

Kelly said that education for the public on mental health was important as well due to a lack of understanding on the issue, and that the more knowledge people had about the subject, the more support the community could give.

“For the community, there needs to be more education on mental health and mental illness. We are often afraid of what we don’t know, so if people knew more about mental health they would perhaps not be judgemental on someone that is facing mental health problems,” she said.

“The first step to recovery for anyone suffering from mental illness is the need to feel accepted, so it is up to us as a community to show them this support, which plays a massive role on their road to recovery,” she added.