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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

AWARE launches ‘Meet Us’ campaign on 25th Anniversary of Northern Ireland’s mental health charity

AWARE – The depression charity for Northern Ireland, is celebrating their 25 years of changing lives and released a campaign called ‘Meet us’ that was first platformed across their socials on Mental Health Awareness Week last month.

Across 5 video interviews, they introduced board members, team members, volunteers, and service users who passionately have kept AWARE services alive for a quarter of a century. As each interviewee described their journey with mental health, the charity showed how they employ people with personal experience of mental illness at every level of their organisation.

Warren Elder telling his story

The chief executive at AWARE, Karen Collins says:

“At AWARE, we view it as essential to have people with personal experience of mental illness, whether that is themselves or have walked the journey with a loved one, employed at every level of our organisation. It is always so courageous and empowering for people to come forward to share their stories so that others can be encouraged they are not alone in how they think or feel and that there are services out there for them to access help from. Mental illness can be such an isolating period in someone’s life and we want people to know that they are not alone, and to come and meet with our staff, group facilitators, and service users who have either been there in the past or are currently in a similar place.

“I personally am very proud of our board, staff members, facilitators, and service users that put themselves forward for our ‘Meet Us’ – 25 years Of Changing Lives campaign. We hope that by listening to these testimonies the public will know that they will only be met with understanding when they come to AWARE to seek help. That not only do we work to raise awareness of depression, anxiety, and bipolar to help break down the stigma surrounding the topic of mental illness, but that our team passionately lives it out in our own lives every day by being willing to speak up about it.”

AWARE first started in Derry/Londonderry in 1996 by a group of people that shared a past of mental illness and a dream of a future where more people could get the help and support they needed. From one conversation AWARE was born, and now 25 years on it has grown to a thriving charity whose services have reached thousands, and whose conversations today are changing lives. They run 25 peer-led free-to-attend support groups all around the country, encouraging people to talk to those that understand the journey they are on and can discuss ways for them to move forward. They deliver many educational programmes, across all generations from primary school to the elderly, within workplaces to community groups, teaching people more about mental health and the tools they need to be able to deal with life’s many ups and downs. They relentlessly fight every day for more awareness of mental illness within our community, so that people have the freedom to talk openly about what is going on inside their minds without stigma.

Helen McDonnell

Helen McDonnell, a founding member of AWARE and currently a board member was one of the interviewees in the 25 Years of Changing Lives –‘Meet us’ campaign. During her interview she said:

“Over the years I have suffered from low self-esteem and low mood, particularly after the birth of my second son when I hit rock bottom really. I sought help, got medication, and talked about how I was feeling, and from then I’ve learned how to manage. I think it’s great that we in AWARE have people with real experience of poor mental health. Until you have that experience of low mood or a mental health issue you don’t have that understanding. So now we (AWARE) are in a better position to support people because of that deep understanding. And that goes across the organisation to understand at all levels of how we can support and do the best for our service users.”

The ‘Meet us’ campaign was released as a part of AWARE’s 25th anniversary that they are celebrating this year. One of the key messages that came through in this series of interviews is that they aim to be here, helping and offering their support services for the next 25 years.

Caitlin Johnston

Caitlin Johnston, a support group facilitator at AWARE and a member of their fundraising team was amongst the interviewees. She said:

My personal experience began in 2016 as I was just finishing my A-Levels. I noticed myself just becoming very withdrawn and not enjoying life. I felt like I’d no purpose and no reason to get up. When I became a group facilitator for AWARE in 2018 it made me change my perspective on life and made me realise how important charities like AWARE are for myself and the people in Northern Ireland. The difference it makes when you see people walk through the door and leave, it’s like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders. I’ll ask them “What do you feel like you get out of a support group?” And they say that their whole life has changed now, that they can open up about it (mental illness) and it isn’t taboo. That they can talk about it and not feel judged.

“I think it’s so important that AWARE stays around for 25 plus years... it’s so important that they stay around forever!”

Caitlin Johnston

Happy 25th anniversary to AWARE! You can watch their ‘Meet us’ – 25 Years Of Changing Lives campaign at the videos below!

For more information and to keep up to date with AWARE NI, please visit the organisations socials by searching ‘AWARE NI’ or at the website at:


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