Tyrone singer Janet Devlin speaks out about battle with alcoholism and mental health issues
The Gortin-native, speaking on behalf of the charity ASCERT, said one thing most people who are at the mercy of addiction need is a ‘safe space’ to talk about their difficulties.
Janet is supporting ASCERT’s latest campaign, RETHINK YOUR DRINK, which encourages people to think about their relationship with alcohol and consider whether it is time for a change.
Gary McMichael, Chief Executive of ASCERT set up the charity in 1998 as a response to concerns around drug problems within the community.
In an interview with Gary, Janet explained her initial experience with alcohol was a positive one as it helped her overcome her shyness, a phenomenon many young people experience.
However, it eventually took a destructive turn.
She explained: “I didn’t get drunk for the first time until I was almost at the end of 16. I wasn’t the biggest fan of alcohol but I was a very shy kid and it gave me this magical elixir that would allow me to talk to people, to dance and to socialise all of these things I couldn’t do sober.
“I had a positive feeling towards this thing that could help me out in situations that I couldn’t do on my own.”
By her own admission, Janet’s drinking started to get more insidious when she was living on her own at 17 in a city [London] where she didn’t know anybody, had no friends or personal relationships.
“I couldn’t fly home every weekend to see my friends and my family so my semblance of normality was to drink in this apartment on my own, stick on a playlist, have a sing-song have a dance and it made me feel a little bit normal, and nobody thought it was weird, because they were like ‘oh well she’s just doing what everyone her age is doing’.”
Janet’s relationship with alcohol “turned darker” as she turned 18 years old and had access to buying alcohol. Combined with several negative turns of events in her personal and professional life, she admitted to relying on alcohol to cope.
“I just started relying on alcohol even more and I don’t know where it fully engulfed me but very quickly through not being able to sleep, because I had insomnia at the time, I was using alcohol to go to sleep and then I was using alcohol to be social,” she said.
“I always had this thing in my head like ‘when it starts being a problem I’ll stop’ but of course it’s not that easy when you’re an addict.”
Gary said ASCERT are delighted to have Janet on board as her story can inspire other people to reach out if they feel they need support and to help empower them to ask for help when they need it.
He said: “Janet has been very open, honest and inspirational about what she has gone through personally and the challenges she’s faced with her addiction and mental health issues.
“Her experiences will relate to so many people because they demonstrate how quickly things can spiral out of control due to pressures going on in people’s lives, whatever the circumstances may be, and the message Janet expresses with such honesty is that no matter how dark and difficult things are, there is always hope and always help to deal with those problems and get your life back on track”
One aspect of ASCERT’s work Gary is keen to talk about is to encourage anyone impacted by alcohol or drug misuse or mental health to reach out to them.
“Whether it's your parent, your partner or a sibling; if someone has a problem with their alcohol use, a problem with their mental health, or a problem with drug use, there are people out there who you can talk to” said Gary, adding: “These people can give you support, advice and help you work out how you can best deal with what is going on within your life. They will never judge you and you can speak to them in confidence.”
“We are encouraging people to rethink their drink, to look at their relationship with alcohol and consider that it might be time for a change. We provide a lot of advice and tools that people can use themselves in order to help put those changes into place.”
Speaking of the work ASCERT are doing Janet said encouraging people to speak out has to be a top priority.
She added: “The issue of alcoholism and the root cause of it transcends gender, race, wealth or where you are on the socio-economic platform.
“It (alcohol) doesn’t discriminate, but it’s hard to be vulnerable and open up, especially from men. I get messages from men all the time telling me they can’t talk to their friends or others about their issues.
“Organisations like ASCERT are perfect because you can speak to someone confidentially and they will provide you with the support you need.”
Janet’s visit comes on the back of statistics released by Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), revealing that there were almost 2000 more referrals to child and adolescent mental health services in Northern Ireland in the last financial year than the year before. CAMHS also said they have seen an 83 per cent rise in referrals for eating disorders.
For Janet, her struggles started in her teens. She believes all the signs were there.
She said: “I should’ve seen the signs of my addiction earlier than when I perceived it. I had an addictive personality from a very young age, I was, unfortunately, self-harming by 11 years old, I had anorexia by 15 and then I was addicted to alcohol and sober by 20 years old.”
If you would like support from ASCERT go to ascert.biz or call 0800 254 5123