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Larne woman making a splash for mental health

Pictured: Ally (left) and friends swimming at Ballygally beach

A cold water swimming enthusiast from Larne is taking on a brave thirty-day challenge in aid of local mental health charity, AWARE NI.

Ally McConnell is swimming the icy cold waters of the Antrim coast every day for thirty days to raise awareness of the mental health benefits of sea swimming while giving back to her community.

Ally McConnell (39), an Operations Manager at BT, started her ‘Stop Suicide Sea Swim’ challenge on 12 August and has raised over £1300 already. As well as helping others, she explains that sea swimming has also benefitted her own mental health.

I've always loved being in the water, I feel in my element, and I've always enjoyed swimming. The benefits of it are incredible. After the initial shock, you come out feeling calm and full of endorphins.

“There have been times during the challenge where I've found it tough, but I've been surprised at how much the benefits have outweighed the difficulties. I've got quite a busy lifestyle and quite a demanding job, and I found that it helps me to balance everything.”

After recently losing a friend to suicide, Ally wanted to promote awareness around mental health and the resources that are available to the public. She says that the benefits of sea swimming combined with raising funds for Northern Ireland’s leading depression charity has been an incredible experience.

I saw that AWARE is organising a ‘Sea Splash’ for World Suicide Prevention Day, and the idea of doing my own thirty-day challenge just fell into place.

“I've got this opportunity now to do something and play my part in spreading awareness around mental health, and I feel like I have an obligation to give back to my community. I love that AWARE is a local charity that helps people directly in our communities; the way they run the support groups and their other resources is so different from other charities.

“Sometimes we hear that there is little help available for mental health, but I wanted to turn that message on its head and make people realise that there is help available.’’

AWARE NI’s free-to-attend support groups welcome people living with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. The groups provide a safe space to meet with others on a similar journey who can understand, encourage and suggest helpful ways of coping. AWARE NI also delivers mental health awareness courses to schools, workplaces, community groups, and hospitals to equip people with the tools they need to best look after their minds.

To support Ally in her ‘Stop Suicide Sea Swim’ challenge, visit her GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/30-day-stop-suicide-sea-swim

For information on AWARE NI’s programmes and support, please go to www.aware-ni.org