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Edmonton walk raises funds for mental health and suicide awareness

Darkness into Light provides an opportunity for people to connect with their local community, show support to those who have been bereaved by suicide and bring global awareness to mental health.
Darkness into Light provides an opportunity for people to connect with their local community, show support to those who have been bereaved by suicide and bring global awareness to mental health. Global News

It is a walk for a very important cause.

The Darkness Into Light five-kilometre walk is being held in Edmonton early Saturday morning for the second straight year, raising money to support mental health and suicide awareness.

“It’s a walk I wish we didn’t have to have, you know?” board chair Gary Unger said Friday.

“We lose way too many people to suicide. I lost my wife in 2015; I know exactly what that does to a family and what kind of the path that it leaves behind.”

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Darkness Into Light started in Dublin, Ireland in 2009. The fundraiser has since grown into a worldwide movement that has about 200,000 annual participants who all walk on the same day, for the same reason.

READ MORE: Edmonton micro-funding event highlights mental health initiatives for young people

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After losing his wife, Unger’s daughter participated in the walk in Calgary in 2016. Unger hadn’t heard of the walk before that, but wanted to bring it to Edmonton.

“I belonged to a support group with a number of other people that have lost someone and, you know, everybody is on their own path but we’re all kind of on a similar path,” he said.

“We all support each other and they all thought it was a great idea to bring this just walk here.”

The walk starts at 4:15 a.m. Saturday at Victoria Park. The walk from complete darkness into sunlight is meant to symbolize the struggle faced by those battling mental illness.

“Just like we want to bring mental health from the darkness into the light. My wife used to say that she was in a dark place or that there was a storm coming, and she could kind of feel it coming on and she would do our best to fight it off,” Unger recalled.

“But it’s a disease that takes hold and it’s a very hard battle to fight, and that’s what this walk is about. We want to try and bring people that are suffering into the light.

“This event last year, I felt like was a very surreal morning, a very magical morning.”

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READ MORE: ‘Depression isn’t like a broken bone’: Steps to overcome this common mental illness

Last year, 188 people took part in the walk, raising just over $24,000. This year, more than 500 people are expected to take part and they’ve already surpassed last year’s fundraising total.

Funds raised from the Edmonton walk will go to the Coordinated Suicide Prevention Program.

“I said right from day one, honestly, the money’s important and it goes to a good cause,” Unger said, “and we need money to facilitate these programs and help people. But for me, the importance is all of us getting together and going for a walk in solidarity and not just in Edmonton, but worldwide.

“There’s 200,000 to 250,000 people around the globe all walking with us, and all for the same reason and all to support each other. And to me, that’s so much more important than the money. So I’ve always said $1, $100,000… I don’t care. I care about the event and that we show people that we’re all in this together and we need to end the stigma and we need to fight the disease that is mental illness.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911. 

Alberta has a 24/7 mental health help line that can be reached at 1-877-303-2642.

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The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways for getting help if you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental health issues.

— With files from Slav Kornik, Global News.