Calton Hill sunrise walk to banish Blue Monday pain

Colleagues Jemma Nisbet and Orla McCrory. Picture: Greg Macvean
Colleagues Jemma Nisbet and Orla McCrory. Picture: Greg Macvean
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A group of office workers from one of the big four accounting firms are climbing Calton Hill tomorrow to watch the sunrise and mark Blue Monday – the most depressing day of the year.

Around 50 people from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in Edinburgh will raise money for Samaritans and support their colleague, Orla McCrory, whose sister Catherine took her own life last July.

Orla's sister Catherine

Orla's sister Catherine

They will take part in the Darkness Into Light Walk an initiative that originated in Dublin in 2009 to raise funds and awareness of suicide and self harm.

Blue Monday, the third Monday in January, was first recognised in 2005 and is calculated to be the worst day of the year using a range of factors including – weather conditions, debt levels and failing resolutions formed at the start of the year.

McCrory, from Belfast, moved to Edinburgh last August before starting work with PwC a month later, while grieving the loss of her 27-year-old sister.

Her partner in organising the event is Jemma Nisbet, who is a welcome host with the front of house team, who look after the firm’s staff and clients.

McCrory said: “I started with PwC last September and when you start with one of these big companies you think it’s about money and not much else. But as soon as I came in I saw the mental health and wellbeing posters everywhere about Blue Monday which we do once a month in the office.

“I spoke to Jemma and asked to join them.

“Not only do the Samaritans help a lot of people and help with the sort of thing my sister went through, I even email them or call them if I fancy a chat.”

Around one in four people will experience some kind of mental health issue in a given year and suicide is the biggest killer of young people aged between 25-34 in the UK.

It is also the biggest cause of death of men under 50 in the UK.

Nisbet said: “The response has been fantastic. We’ve got around 50 staff signed up to join us. We’re meeting here at the office and we’re going to walk along Princes Street to the top of Calton Hill, watch the sunrise and take a moment to reflect.

“The whole point around it is that although a lot of us are in a dark place at times a lighter time will come.

“It’s also to honour the memory of Orla’s sister.

“Then we’ll head back to the office and we’ll have breakfast rolls and hopefully someone from Samaritans is coming to give us a talk about the support they give people.”

Samaritans opened their first Scottish branch in Edinburgh in 1959 and have since grown to 19 branches supported by over 1,000 volunteers across, the country, stretching from Shetland to the Borders.

A spokesperson for Samaritans, said: “Samaritans are delighted that PwC Edinburgh will be completing the Darkness Into Light walk.

“Blue Monday is known as one of the most toughest days of the year. But it doesn’t have to be and you don’t have to face it alone.

“Samaritans are available 365 days a year, 24 hours a day for someone to turn to when they are feeling overwhelmed.

“Funds raised during the walk and through the partnership with PwC are helping us recruit and train more volunteers.

“At a time when increasing numbers of people are turning to Samaritans for emotional support, the need for new volunteers has never been greater.”

‘You are loved. You are wanted. You are supported’

My sister, Catherine (Cat), took her own life at the age of 27 after years of struggling with anxiety and depression.

Last July our family of nine became a family of eight and hundreds of tributes were paid by shocked friends and family. I often wonder if things would be different had she seen the outpouring. Though, of course, things are not that simple when it comes to mental health. Put simply by the priest who gave the sermon at her funeral: “She loved animals, she loved children and she loved old people. She could not, however, love herself.”

With her countless friends, striking beauty and artistic talent, I could never understand her acts of self-harm. Each time she hurt herself, I felt less sympathy and more resentment. Perhaps if I’d had a better understanding of her condition or the mind-set she was in when carrying out these acts, I could have been more supportive.

This is why I have turned my guilt into determination to reduce the stigma around mental health. I want those suffering to know that they can talk when they need to, whether it be to family, friends or an outside group like The Samaritans. I also want those with loved ones affected by mental health issues to reach out and tell them what I wish I could have told my sister when she was alive:

You are loved. You are wanted. You are supported. I can’t turn back time, but perhaps I can change the way others think about mental health and save a few lives in the process.

Orla McCrory