The Walk of Hope: walking from the darkness into the light for suicide awareness

22 mins read

It’s two o’clock in the morning and a dedicated crew of volunteers in yellow t-shirts are setting up check in desks, preparing coffees, teas, and bottles of water, putting out leaflets and banners in the reception of the Glasgow Science Centre. These volunteers were setting up for the Walk of Hope.

The Walk of Hope was being set up by Lanarkshire-based suicide awareness and support charity Chris’s House (Centre for Help, Response and Intervention Surrounding Suicide), and the walk aims to raise awareness around suicide and support the work that Chris’s House carry out. The 5k would begin at 4am and have those participating start the walk when it was still dark, and complete it after dawn had broken, having them walk from the darkness into the light, which is the path that Chris’s House wants to help people in suicide crisis take, to go from their dark place and into the light through support.

The reception of the science centre contained a check in desk, some tables with snacks and bottles of water, “banners of hope” wrapped around the support beam bearing messages of memorial for those who have taken their own lives, a stage was set up, a man stood next to the stage playing his guitar, large letters spelled the word hope, and a gazebo stood at the back of the room with pictures of those who had tragically taken their own lives.

People from all across Scotland began to arrive and collect their yellow t-shirts, talk to volunteers and other people participating. Some people even brought their dogs dressed in the yellow Chris’s House t-shirts for the walk. A group had travelled down from Fort William to participate in the Walk of Hope and spoke about how they were involved in planning a similar walk to take place in Fort William.

Participants arrive at the Glasgow Science Centre for the Walk of Hope Credit: Harry Williamson

The founder of Chris’s House, Anne Rowan, took to a stage to address the crowd of people who had turned out for the Walk of Hope. She thanked everyone for coming and commented on the number of people who had come to participate in the walk. Anne then spoke about how she set up Chris’s House after her son Christopher took his own life in 2011.

Anne then thanked her team of volunteers for their hard work, pausing her address while the crowd gave them a round of applause, as well as thanking John, the man who stood in the corner of the main entrance from before 2am playing guitar for everyone who came to check in for the walk, and organisations such as IKM Visual Solutions and the event’s main sponsor, the Co-op in Newhouse, North Lanarkshire for providing food and drinks for the participants and the yellow Chris’s House t-shirts that everyone taking part in the Walk of Hope was wearing.

Anne spoke about the growth of Chris’s House in recent years, and how this showed an important step in starting a dialogue about suicide awareness and prevention; “We’re getting stronger and stronger every year, and hopefully that means that there is more awareness.”

The founder of Chris’s House, Anne Rowan Credit: Harry Williamson

Anne then invited another speaker to the stage, who she described as “a true warrior against suicide,” Isabel McCue, the founder of mental health charity Theatre NEMO.

Isabel stated how she was overwhelmed to be at the Walk of Hope and to see so many people taking part. She then spoke about why she set up Theatre NEMO. Isabel, like Anne, also lost her son John to suicide in 2000. Isabel fought back tears as she spoke about her son and how John taking his own life drove her to set up her organisation she said;

“There was just so much that could’ve been done to help him but it just wasn’t done, it is why we started Theatre NEMO, we thought we’d get people in doing arts, some drama, and getting the support. It’s just somewhere that’s there for them all the time, and they know that they can depend on it and it has made such a big difference to people’s lives.”

Isabel spoke about changing attitudes towards suicide, the ways that more people are talking about suicide and cases of suicide, and the prominence of suicide in society from when she was younger; “When I was young I never heard of anyone taking their own lives ever, and yet now it seems that every day we are hearing more of these terrible stories.” She then spoke about the “difficult life” that young people face these days and how the word is such a “strange place.”

When talking about raising awareness Isabel told the crowd of the importance of everyone playing a role in raising awareness surrounding suicide and ensuring that people know that they can get help; “We know that we can help people and we know that there are ways of helping and supporting people, and it’s up to us really to make sure that we go about and we just tell people and make people listen.”

Theatre NEMO founder Isabel McCue Credit: Harry Williamson

Anne then invited Pr. Rory O’Connor onto the stage. Pr. O’Connor leads the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory at the University of Glasgow and is the head of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Research Group.

Pr. O’Connor spoke about his personal losses to suicide, how this year was an important year to him, and how he still could not believe that it had been 10 years since one of his closest friends took her own life; “Every single day still she’s on my mind,” Pr. O’Connor told the crowd. He also spoke about how his PhD Supervisor took his own life 3 years after that. Rory said that although trying to understand suicide has been a passion for him, it is also “incredibly personal.”

Rory said that it was very “humbling” to be at the Walk of Hope and praised the “amazing work” of Chris’s House and the importance of the work that they carry out; “We need more places like Chris’s House and more resources so that someone in a moment of crisis have somewhere that they can go.” Rory told the crowd. He paused to lead a further round of applause for Chris’s House and their volunteers.

Pr. O’Connor then explained his latest research findings surrounding suicide. O’Connor said that this was the biggest study of its kind in Scotland and showed the scale of distress and attempted suicide in the country. The study confidentially interviewed 3500 young people aged between 18 and 34 representative of the whole country.

Pr. O’Connor then delivered the “stark statistic” that 1 in 9 of these young people had attempted to take their own life.

“This highlights the scale of the challenge that we face as a country,” O’Connor continued. He spoke about how if you live in Scotland, you have a higher risk of suicide than if you live in England. “We need to do so much more to understand that,” he said stressing the importance of researching suicide and the reasons why people take their own lives.

He then continued to talk about suicide in the political agenda, and how suicide awareness has moved up the political agenda and has become an issue of more importance, as well as discussing the consultations which will result in the Scottish Government’s Suicide Prevention Action Plan, describing this as a “key moment when political decisions will be made about suicide prevention in the next few years,” and he hopes that we will “have an action plan that is resourced.”

O’Connor ended by talking about the fact that the suicide rate raised last year and stressed the importance of suicide prevention; “we need to make sure that this does not turn into trend, we will do as much as we can to ensure that next year there’s not 728 people taking their own lives.”

Professor Rory O’Connor Credit: Harry Williamson

As the walk was about to begin a volunteer took the microphone and announced that the 2018 Walk of Hope was about to begin. A touching moment was when the volunteer announced one of the most important parts of the walk; “Nobody walks alone, turn to the people next to you, say hello, give them a hug, and let’s go.”

With that, the massive crowd began the Walk of Hope. Wearing their yellow t-shirts, some bearing photographs of loved ones, family and friends who have been lost to suicide. Some of those walking carrying yellow flowers.

The walk continued along the side of the river, past the buildings of Glasgow’s iconic riverfront, over the Tradeston Bridge where people stopped to light candles, take a photograph, and drop their yellow flowers over the side of the bridge and into the River Clyde. Then along Govan Road before returning to the riverside at the Clyde Arc, past the Finneston Crane and back to the Glasgow Science Centre. The 5k Walk of Hope was complete. Volunteers and Stewards lined the route to assist anybody and encourage participants, cheering them on as they walked. Although a highlight of the walk has to be a small dog running along the riverside with one of the 5k medals on its collar.

By the time we had returned to the science centre it was daylight, and we had walked from the darkness and into the light.

People dropped yellow flowers into the River Clyde from the Tradeston Bridge Credit: Harry Williamson

People from all across Scotland, of different ages and from different walks of life all came to be part of the 2018 Walk of Hope, which was symbolic of a very important message, that it doesn’t matter where you come from, what you do, who you are, whether you are eight years old or eighty years old, we can all be affected by suicide.

Everyone had different reasons for coming to join the walk of hope, some had been in suicidal crisis in the past and came to Chris’s House for support, some were walking in memory of loved ones, friends and family who they had lost to suicide, and some had no personal experience of suicide but just wanted to raise awareness about suicide and support Chris’s House.

One man spoke about his own experience of feeling like he wanted to take his own life, and how Chris’s House helped him; “I was contemplating suicide and got involved with Chris’s House. I got the help I need.” When talking about feeling suicidal he said; “It’s a horrible feeling to carry around with you.”

He then spoke about how shocked he was to see so many young people visit Chris’s House and talking about issues of bullying.

A family wore yellow t-shirts with the picture of one of their relatives who had taken his own life, the man’s mother held back tears as she spoke about the Walk of Hope, “It is just so important to raise awareness, awareness has to be made and be more prominent because this [suicide] affects everyone.”

“We constantly see resources being thrown to tackle other health issues, and it seems that there is little mention of resources to prevent suicide and raise awareness. We need it because it’s a big killer, especially amongst young men.”

One woman was attending the walk to raise awareness about suicide, and spoke about how attending the Walk of Hope made her feel; “I’ve not been affected personally by suicide but it’s very important to raise awareness, it’s also very humbling to be here.”

“Me walking 5k this morning is nothing compared to what the people who Chris’s House help go through,” she said.

Another man spoke about how he went to Chris’s House when they first opened for support; “The support that Chris’s House give is immediate, the mental health support services cannot offer that immediate support that people need, so I am here to give something back.”

One woman said that this was her first time attending the Walk of Hope said that she was glad to support Chris’s House.

Despite their different reasons for attending, there were some things that everybody participating in the Walk of Hope agreed on.

They all commented on the growth of Chris’s House, how far the organisation had come and how the Walk of Hope had grown. One participant who had been involved with Chris’s House since the early days of the charity said that they see Chris’s House getting bigger and bigger every year and that they could see another Chris’s House opening up.

Anne Rowan spoke about how far the event had grown since it started, amazed that they were now starting the Walk of Hope in the science centre compared to the first Walk of Hope four years ago when they were handing out yellow t-shirts from the back of a van.

Everybody praised Chris’s House and the important work that they do helping people who are in crisis and the work that Anne and her team do to raise awareness about suicide. Everyone praised Anne and the team at Chris’s House, citing the great work that they do to help people, describing it as great, amazing, and inspirational.

“Fantastic thing for people who have lost someone to suicide, it’s great for people who are in a dark place, it’s good for them to know that there is somewhere there for them.” One person said.

What one woman said really showed how important the work that Chris’s House do is; “They help people survive.”

Everybody had endless praise for Anne Rowan, one woman said; “She is amazing, I love Anne, she is such an inspiration, I love her hugs, and Chris’s House is a really amazing charity.”

At the end of the walk Anne said that if it wasn’t for everyone working together, her “great team of volunteers,” sponsors and donors and those who participated, then this “marvellously professionally run event” wouldn’t have been possible.

The Walk of Hope passes the Finneston Crane Credit: Harry Williamson

Perhaps the most inspiring thing about the Walk of Hope was that despite all of the differences, hundreds of strangers came to walk together, spoke about their personal experiences of suicide and raise awareness about suicide. Nurses, joiners, students, cleaners, teachers, scientists, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and friends all came and walked together, some hand in hand, to raise awareness and fight against the stigma attached to suicide.

There were a few things made clear by the Walk of Hope and talking to the people taking part;

One was that Anne Rowan and the team of volunteers at Chris’s House carry out inspirational and important work, they work hard supporting people in crisis walk from the darkness into the light, helping families and friends cope with losing a loved one to suicide, and raising awareness about suicide. Chris’s House help people survive, they save lives. They truly are an inspiration.

Furthermore, it was made clear that no matter what, we should always keep raising awareness about suicide and keep talking about it. Because when we talk about and discuss suicide, the more aware people become, and the stigma attached to suicide can be defeated, meaning that there is a greater understanding and support for people who are in crisis, who are in a dark place. The more support available can help save someone’s life.

700 people took part in the Walk of Hope in Glasgow, with a further 200 taking part in a Walk of Hope in Edinburgh.

On the morning of the 12th May 2018, a total of 903 people walked from the darkness into the light for suicide awareness.

Featured Image Credit: Harry Williamson

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Freelance award-winning journalist | Best Journalist SPARC Scotland 2021 | Stirling Uni Class of 2021 | Former Deputy Editor - Brig Newspaper | Bylines in The Scottish Sun, The Alloa and Hillfoots Advertiser, The Barrhead News, The (Renfrew and Johnstone) Gazette, Brig Newspaper, The Oban Times, Stirling Today and Tales From Lockdown.

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