AWARE Celebrates 25 Years!
AWARE – The depression charity for Northern Ireland, founded in 1996 is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. AWARE offers support, education and signposting services to help thousands living with depression, anxiety, and bipolar in Northern Ireland.
The charity was started by a group of individuals either with personal experience of mental illness or professionally trained in the area. A living room conversation detailing plans to help and support those living with mental illness grew into an organisation that is now extremely active in the fight for better mental health services in Northern Ireland. AWARE is now recognised as one of the leading local charities advocating and assisting people to achieve positive mental health.
For their anniversary, AWARE has launched a billboard campaign that honours the thousands of conversations that have taken place over the past 25 years. These conversations have led people out of a dark place and into AWARE Support Groups, where they can open up about what is going on inside their minds and feel the weight of the stigma surrounding mental health, be lifted. These conversations have given people the freedom to feel understood by others and to carry on, knowing they can access support without judgement. The billboards encourage the public to talk to someone, to be educated on how to better their mental wellbeing, and to fundraise so that they can keep these services open for the next 25 years.
One of AWARE’s key services is their peer support groups that allow people living with mental illness, or caring for someone suffering, the opportunity to come and meet with those on the same journey as them. Due to their popularity, these support groups have expanded over the years and there are now 25 operating across the country, including two online groups. Many service users rave about these groups, including Maryann Quigley who attends one in South Belfast.
“AWARE has been like an oasis in a desert. When I’m not well and feel very alone in a bad place, AWARE has been like a well of support for me. The people in the support group I attend are incredible. They understand what I am talking about and have experienced the same feelings. They can identify with you so you no longer feel alone but instead have complete understanding by those around you. There aren’t a lot of groups like that!
Since the past year of lockdowns, mental health issues have come to the forefront of our society’s attention and are something that the government is now having to address and prioritise. But AWARE has been doing it for years! Perhaps somewhat in the background as not everyone in Northern Ireland has heard of them or their services, and yet it has carried on supporting and working with those living with depression for the last 25 years.”
AWARE is an extremely empowering charity and has always encouraged those that access their services to go on to volunteer and facilitate groups. They feel that this is a great way to reassure those who are attending the groups, that they are in the company of people with first-hand experience of mental ill-health and the journey they are about to go on.
Stephen McGovern, once an attendee and now a volunteer facilitator of a support group says,
“AWARE saved my life! In my darkest hour, I dragged myself to a meeting. I felt I was alone with my clinical depression and anxiety. I walked into a room with others just like me, some at rock-bottom; others healing. I shared my story and feelings. The response of others in the group was overwhelming! People hugged me, gave out their number, and offered help and support to a total stranger. Their response saved my life. Two years later and I am still here! Healing, mending, but most importantly: wanting to be here.
My experience was so profound that I decided to pay it forward and become an AWARE facilitator so that I could offer help and support to others. My deepest appreciation and thanks go to AWARE and Jarlath McCreanor, a fellow facilitator who got me involved with AWARE. The work of AWARE and its staff have saved and continue to save lives.”
Chief Executive of AWARE, Karen Collins, says
“I am honoured to be Chief Executive of AWARE as it celebrates 25 years of changing lives in Northern Ireland. It is an incredible charity that has supported thousands over the years to achieve better mental wellbeing when they are going through difficult times. AWARE is a hands-on charity. We actively work every day to break down the negative connotations surrounding the topic of mental health so that more people feel they can come forward to ask for help. We work to further our reach and ensure more people are aware of the services they can access through AWARE and to signpost them to crisis intervention services. We have an incredible team of colleagues, volunteers, corporate partners, fundraisers, and service users that work tirelessly to ensure we can continue to keep those services open for the next 25 years.
I would like to personally thank every one of those people who have used or supported AWARE, you are valued more than you know and play a vital part in a large dream to see Northern Ireland become one of the leading country’s that prioritises its peoples’ mental health.”