Be Aware, support is there

Aware, support services co-ordinator, Grainee McNamee. (1003lm77)
Aware, support services co-ordinator, Grainee McNamee. (1003lm77)

This is the remarkable woman who emerged from her own deep, dark struggle with depression, stronger, happier and determined not only to help herself but help others also.

Grainne McNamee is the support services co-ordinator with Aware Defeat Depression. To describe her as driven to help, would be an understatement. Ms.McNamee, who helps run 18 support groups across Northern Ireland including the Derry and Strabane group sessions, is motivated by her strong empathy for and desire to help those who suffer from depression.

“Aware know that people prefer one to one counselling but the results achieved by our support groups are remarkable. Those joining the groups are entirely different people to those who have participated in them for some time.

“I really believe that the best way to address the issue of depression and suicide is to talk about it openly,” she tells the Journal. “We, as a society need to remove the taboo from the subject. The ethos of the group work is centred on self help for those suffering from depression.”

The work is targeted at those who are already attending a GP and are motivated enough to start overcoming their illness, as Grainne was in 2010.

Grainne’s battle with the illness makes for harrowing reading. “I was first diagnosed with depression in 2007,” she recalls.

“They were dark days which I couldn’t have got through without the help of my mammy and daddy and the Aware defeat depression support groups.

“It was a horrific experience but it gave me the opportunity to rebuild me as the person I wanted to be.”

The former Raytheon I.T. worker was already suffering from the illness when she was made redundant.

“That led to a period of me having suicidal and homicidal thoughts,” said the mother of two.

“I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my children behind. In my head it seemed a perfectly normal course of action.”

As the statutory agencies moved into support her and her children, Grainne came to the realisation that she needed to address the issues she faced.

“It was like a light going on, so I enrolled in the Aware sessions. I remember being amazed at the dynamic of the group. I remember thinking that it was great to talk about this openly.”

The groups run for 90 minutes and accommodate ten participants.

“The first, physical step of attending a group session is the hardest,” admits Grainne. “It does lead to a massive impact in the lives of those attending though. It even contributes to the lives and well-being of those caring for the sufferer. The improvement is tangible, realised physically as well as mentally. You can tell a person has been attending for a while as opposed to new members just by how they appear physically.”

The class allowed Grainne the confidence to identify triggers and causes of the illness and in her own words “stop popping anxiety pills and get off the sofa”.

Enrolling in a Psychology degree at University of Ulster Magee, Grainne is now in her second year. Those studies have led to her landing her dream job. “The redundancy led to a breakdown which led to be becoming the person I always wanted to be. A friend said to me ‘now is your chance to study psychology, you’ve always been banging on about it’.

“My studies led to this job, which has become part of who I am. It isn’t just something I do to get money. I really think people should eradicate this last taboo of suicide. It is the percieved stigma of depression which needs addressed, suffers believe they wil be percieved as mad or weak if they admit to feeling depressed.

“Depression is an illness not a lifestyle choice,” she stressed.

The World Health Organisation estimates that, worldwide, every 40 seconds there is a completed suicide, with attempts being 20 times more common.

Aware believe that; “For some immediate relatives the impact of depression can be enormous with surveys showing that 40% are themselves sufficiently distressed to need help.”

Support groups

Resultingly the support groups are all open to carers. Aware have also launched a carer only support group in Derry. This will cater for the specific needs and challenges faced by those caring for someone with depression. The group will allow them a safe space to discuss those challenges openly in a supportive environment with people who are undergoing the same journey as themselves,

“These are experiences which need and deserve support,” added Ms. McNamee. “The more people we have talking about suicide the less people will be ending their pain in other ways.”

In order to provide such support Aware defeat depression has eight employees at their Strand Road offices. Last year 322 people came attended their support groups, a 100% increase on the 2010 figures.

“It is strange that this illness is so common yet no one talks about it,” reflects the support services co-ordinator.

Today a rejuvenated Grainne monitors her mental health daily: “The group has given me the tools and techniques not only to identify when my mental health is flagging but methods of addressing that. I have my own little ‘mental health box’ which helps me. I use affirmations, mediations and exercises to ensure I don’t regress. Everyone has down days but now I can ensure those days don’t turn into weeks. That is thanks to the group sessions offered by Aware. In fact today I address and maintain my mental health even before my own children as if it were to slide, my ability to look after them would also. that is how important it is. I really couldn’t have done that without the support of my parents, the Aware group and now without the help of my specific team Andy Sims, who is basically the best boss in the world and Mary O’Brien who is also fantastic. it is easy to respond to their passion and motivation when it comes to helping people who are in a similar position to that which I found myself in.”

Aware offer a group support session in Derry, Strand Road every Tuesday from 7.30pm. The Strabane group meets in the library every second Tuesday from 6.30pm.

For more information contact Grainne on 71260602 or