If your New Year’s resolution was to make a difference in 2022, or you wish to gain new skills, then you might consider volunteering with Aware.
The national charity, who support people impacted by depression and bipolar disorder, is seeking to recruit an additional 50 volunteers for 2022, increasing its volunteer base from 450 to 500, in a bid to bolster supports on offer.
Aware has seen a significant spike in the number of people reaching out for support and information over the past number of years. In addition to the huge prevalence of depression in Ireland, which impacts hundreds of thousands of people, the charity says that Covid-19 has also had a significant impact as many continue to experience turbulent times, the mental health impacts of which may persist for some time to come.
Aware has put out an urgent call for people who have empathy, compassion, and three hours a week to assist with three key services: the Support Line, which operates 365 days a year; virtual or in-person Support & Self Care Groups, and the Life Skills online education programme. The organisation is seeking volunteers to work on services remotely from their own home, as well as in locations around the country.
Aware is particularly seeking volunteers in Cork city, Galway city, Kerry (Tralee), Limerick city and Mayo (Castlebar) for group sessions, in addition to people throughout the country who can volunteer from home for Zoom based groups sessions and phone support.
The services are free to anyone aged 18 years and over who needs support, advice and information about issues relating to their own mood or the mood of a friend or family member, or who experience depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or related mood conditions. People can speak openly about their experience and exchange techniques in a safe, judgement free environment via zoom or on the phone, and in-person group meetings are also beginning to reopen.
“This is an opportunity to help change someone’s world during 2022,” says Stephen McBride, Director of Services at Aware. “We are exceptionally fortunate to have so many committed and dedicated volunteers, without whom we could not provide our services that impact so positively on so many people throughout Ireland. Volunteers are the backbone of Aware, and now more than ever, we need your help. You can make a real difference. You can help us to be there for another person.”
Stephen continued to say that volunteers also find it incredibly rewarding. “People choose to volunteer for a variety of reasons. For some, it offers the chance to give something back and to make a difference. For others, it provides an opportunity to develop new skills or build on existing experience and knowledge. Volunteering is also proven to decrease the risk of depression and it also has a stress reducing effect. And many of our volunteers have had their own experience of depression or bipolar disorder and want to be there for others.
David Baily from Midleton in Cork is one such volunteer. He experienced depression silently for a number of years after setbacks to a very successful career. “I don’t recall any episodes of depression as a child, teenager, or early adulthood. My experience started when I was working abroad. I was doing well for quite a number of years, things changed, and all of a sudden I was facing a situation that I had no idea how to deal with. Ultimately, I started to experience failure for the first time. This hit me really hard, and my reaction was to hide it. I couldn’t see through it. I became pre-occupied with hiding it, I couldn’t do or think about anything other than my failure – even now I find it hard to say it.
“It got in the way of everything. I had continuous negative self-thoughts, at time bordering on suicidal, and there was no question but that I was depressed. I put on weight and did not care about diet or exercise – and I became pre-occupied with this new reality. Eventually I started to open-up about my failure and that’s when things began to turn around for the better. Depression still remains on the periphery today, but over time I’ve learned the tools to cope with it. I look after my sleep, meditate, and invest in doing things I love, like cycling and singing.
“Now I help others experiencing depression as I know from personal experience that you can turn things around through communication. Volunteering with Aware has not only helped me to understand where I am, but it has also given me purpose. This makes me feel good, which in turn provides me with another coping mechanism when things get tough. Everyone should consider volunteering at some stage in their life.”
For those who think they don’t have the right skills to become a volunteer, David says the training element is excellent. “Every volunteer takes part in an elaborate training programme before working with Aware, and you learn everything you need to know. You learn from other volunteers, and there’s so much support. We have bi-monthly meetings, and a buddy system where we check in with each other before and after our shifts.”
Aware is open 365 days a year and currently has over 450 volunteers throughout the country.
To apply to be a volunteer, you must be over 25 years of age and be available for three hours once a week for at least 18 months. Full training will be provided remotely via Zoom, and you can volunteer from anywhere once you have a reliable internet connection and a quiet place to work from. No prior experience is necessary, though a knowledge of CBT is a requirement to volunteer for Life Skills Online.
This week, Aware also launched its Adult Education Programme, a range of mental health improvement programmes designed to empower adults with the knowledge and skills to build resilience and protect their mental health.
Aware, which was established in 1985, is the national organisation providing free support, education, and information for people impacted by depression, bipolar disorder, and related mood conditions 365 days of the year.
If you are impacted by depression, bipolar disorder, or other mood related conditions, you can contact Aware’s free support line 7 days a week from 10am to 10pm on 1800 80 48 48.
For more on Aware and volunteering, see aware.ie/get-involved/volunteering/.