Aware Defeat Depression’s group facilitator in Carrickfergus is urging local people living with depression not to suffer in silence.
The Carrickfergus group, which meets fortnightly on Wednesdays in the town’s library, has been operating for the past year.
It runs a wide range of cognitive behavioural therapy-based programmes such as Living Life to the Full, Mood Matters and Later Years.
The schemes cater for all age groups, from young people in schools, to adults, including mothers with post natal depression, and the elderly.
Volunteer group facilitator Michelle Martin told The Times that she believes people who could benefit from Aware’s services are being held back by feelings of stigma.
She explained: “Some people think there is still a stigma. A lot of people who would have come have said that they came into the library for two or three weeks before they actually came into the room where we were holding the group. They take gradual steps.
“We help people from a wide age range-we have both men and women and we help people in their twenties and thirties right up to their seventies.
“We go into schools and teach young people mindfulness and how to think positively and have a positive mental attitude.”
Since its launch almost 12 months ago, Michelle says the group has helped a large number of people in the community.
All support groups are overseen by trained facilitators, whose job is to listen and oversee while members support each other.
According to Michelle, the decision to launch a Carrick support group was taken due to a lack of support services and a high level of demand in the area, exacerbated by economic factors.
She said: “Over the past year the recession, pressure on income and unemployment have increased.
“We would help people to start volunteering and would also refer them to organisations such as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau or direct them to the foodbank.
“We refer them to internal programmes like Living Life to the Full, and we work with Mindwise in Ballyclare. Mindwise is a drop-in group, and some people would attend both.”
Group meetings are completely confidential, and Michelle says that the focus is on providing a safe environment where participants can share their stories at their own pace.
She continued: “People can come and talk as much or as little as they would like. Some just sit there and listen to others.
“They find it refreshing to hear that they are not the only people going through it and it helps them to know that they are not the only person in Carrick who feels like this – they are not suffering in silence.
“The purpose of the group is to bring people together to express their problems and support each other.
“The participants really do learn from each other regarding treatments and they share experiences and strategies which help manage their depression.”
Michelle believes that politicians should do more to support the work of organisations like Aware in terms of financial support.
She added: “We could get more people into Aware and using our facility. There is a very high suicide rate in Carrick, with young suicides affecting the community.
“There were several a few months ago – around four in three months – and our organisation runs suicide awareness days.”
For anyone who believes they could benefit from Aware’s services, Michelle has this message: “Do not feel stigmatised or embarrassed: just come along.
“I have seen it help people so much, they get so much out of it. Come along, we are there to help our local community.”
The next meeting of Aware’s Carrick support group is at the library, Joymount, on July 16. For more information, visit www.aware-ni.org