Two professors are preparing to brave the elements in a walk from Londonderry to Belfast to raise awareness of suicide and homelessness in the run-up to Christmas.
Around 300 people in Northern Ireland die by suicide every year, with Derry consistently having one of the highest rates. The city also sits at the top of the poverty league, and the number of those who are homeless far outnumber the amount of available homes.
Professor of housing, Paddy Gray, and Professor of mental health sciences, Siobhan O’Neill, from the Magee Campus of the University of Ulster, will walk the 75 miles between the cities to highlight the links between homelessness and suicide.
They want to promote the message that “it is OK not to feel OK and it is absolutely OK to ask for help”, which is the slogan of one of the organisations they are raising funds for, Cycle Against Suicide.
Prof O’Neill said: “People have wondered why we have chosen to do this in the run-up to Christmas, but it is actually a very relevant time to raise awareness of both of these issues.
“Many people struggling with their mental health will be overwhelmed at Christmas, and being homeless contributes enormously to feeling suicidal.
“The walk we are doing is to raise awareness of the issue more than raising funds, and we are pleased that people have signed up to join us for a few of the miles along the way.
“We have broken the walk down to five days so it should be manageable, but I have to admit I have been very interested in the weather forecast these past few days.
“There is nothing that we can do about the weather, not even Barra Best can help us with that, and I keep telling myself, ‘Sure, it will be grand’.
“But having people with us is a powerful thing that will spur us on.”
A number of charities will benefit from the walk including Cycle Against Suicide, Simon Community, Shelter and the Samaritans.
Anyone who would like to make a donation to any of these groups can do so at Hike4HopeNI.com