Aware’s theme for 2017 is ‘changing lives, saving lives’. Hardly a day passes without someone calling, emailing or commenting that they have used one of Aware’s vital services, and that it has had a helpful, and in some cases profound, impact on their life.
Aware does not provide diagnosis, treatment, counselling or consultations. What it does provide is that often-overlooked piece of the puzzle which can, for so many people, be the piece that makes all the difference: knowledge and understanding. Knowledge about the condition. Knowledge that there is someone to turn to; that someone else has been there; that others understand; that hope is possible; that you too can find your way out of the darkness and tumult.
The effect of depression on a person’s life has been described by the World Health Organisation as ‘corrosive’; a word usually used to indicate something which ‘eats away’ at another substance or being.
Depression ‘eats away’ at a person’s self-esteem and self-worth; it can eat away at interest in and ability to function with family, friends and colleagues; it eats away at ‘cognitive functions’ – a sterile term but one that is so much a part of everyday life, relating as it does to concentration, decision-making, the remembering of the many things which we all have to remember.
Depression can steal the enjoyment from life.
At worst, depression can steal life itself.
It’s a lot to deal with, isn’t it?
The need for support and insight
Data from our services in 2016 shows that there is a clear need for the insight, support and encouraging guidance that Aware offers:
- Aware Support Groups received 11,550 visits
- The Aware Support Line received 11,236 calls
- The Aware Support Mail had 1,937 emails
- Aware’s Life Skills Online programme supported 921 people through eight modules of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Behind each and every one of these figures is a person. Maybe someone you know or love. A human being who arrived into the world with the potential to grow, develop, live and thrive. A human being who may mean the whole entire world to someone who loves them. A father. A mother. A sister. A husband. A grandchild. A brother. A friend.
People who may have withdrawn from friends, family, colleagues because of the very real symptoms that depression brings.
Depression and bipolar disorder bring pain and challenge. And they don’t stick to convenient office hours. 45% of calls to Aware come during the five hours between 5pm and 10pm, while 55% come in the seven-hour period between 10am and 5pm. The vast majority of Aware support groups meet in the evening time, again providing support during those difficult evening hours.
Throughout each of the 365 days of 2016, as in the previous 30 years since Aware was founded, the organisation’s trained service volunteers provided that extra piece of the puzzle – that knowledge and understanding – for so many people. People throughout Ireland (and in some cases, outside Ireland) who were trying to deal with their own experience of depression or bipolar disorder, or were deeply concerned for someone they care about.
Aware volunteers provide a space where the person can acknowledge even their most difficult thoughts and feelings, and can be supported to explore helpful actions they can take to manage these and maybe change these.
The majority of these volunteers do not come from a psychiatric or psychological background. They are people who simply want to use some of their time and their own life skills to make a difference to another, and to feel that they have contributed.
Until 5pm on Monday January 23rd people who wish to apply to become an Aware trained volunteer can do so at aware.ie We require up to 100 new volunteers in order to continue delivering the services at current capacity.
Here, some of our volunteers, past and present, share what the experience means for them:
“My involvement with Aware spans 10 years. I have been involved in many capacities both as a volunteer and as a member of staff. People often say to me that it must be hard to hear all that sadness all the time, but I don’t see it that way.
Like many in Aware I have heard the spectrum of life events and struggles that people face but I’m also reminded that despite (sometimes) the fragility of the human spirit, there is within us strength and courage to keep on trying.
For many it can be a real challenge to find the words to say, ‘I’m not coping’; Aware’s services offer an opportunity to reduce that sense of isolation and provide a space to be heard. You could say it bridges the gap between our internal struggles and the possibility of hope for the future. It is both a privilege and also deeply humbling to be part of Aware.”
Emma, former volunteer and now Support Line and Support Mail Manager
“It has surprised me to find that ordinary words like ‘support’, ‘today’ and ‘maybe’ can have the power to open up new avenues of comfort and hope … For me the satisfaction lies in choosing the right words, to touch a person and, in some small way, be a part of their journey to feeling better.”
Aran, Support Mail volunteer
“I, as a volunteer, have gained much from the people that I support, and continue to learn and grow as a person through my experience as a supporter … My role with Aware has taught me that whilst we all come from different places, situations, life experience and circumstances we are, above all, connected and united through our humanity.”
Ruth, Life Skills Online supporter
“Seeing people who come to the groups managing their own challenges, supporting each other, and recovering, gives me great hope for the resilience of the human spirit.”
Anon., Support Group facilitator
Aware provides initial and ongoing training for all of its volunteers, as well as support throughout their volunteering term.
In 2015 the organisation was awarded the Investing in Volunteers Standard in recognition of the quality of training and services provided, and in acknowledgement of the support the organisation gives to volunteers.
Volunteering with Aware provides a great opportunity for people to enhance or develop important life skills such as communication skills and active listening skills, as well as an opportunity to meet new people. Opportunities to volunteer are currently available on the Aware Support Groups; Support Line and Support Mail services, as well as options to train as a ‘supporter’ for participants on Aware’s Life Skills Online programme.
“Thank you Aware. Keep rolling out [these services]. There are many people in need and we just need a little guidance, somewhere to go and know that we can get help, time and support.” – Aware service user