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'The support line has made me a better listener': 3 of Aware's volunteers share what they've learned

The mental health charity is urgently seeking volunteers for two of its key services.

OVER ONE MILLION people in Ireland are involved in volunteering, according to the most recent data from the Central Statistics Office. 

Offering your free time to help others, be it a few hours a week or much more, is no small ask. But as most volunteers will tell you, the positives you get back are worth it.

For some, volunteering brings a sense of achievement in being there for someone in need. For others, it’s a chance to learn a new skill, meet new people or just escape from the usual routine for a while.

Aware, the mental health charity, is urgently recruiting volunteers for two of its services: the Support Line and Life Skills Online. We spoke to three people who currently give up their time for Aware, to hear about the biggest rewards they’ve gained…

“I’ve learned to be a better listener”

Catherine Weir joined Aware two years ago and is a volunteer on the Support Line.

I saw an ad in the paper for Aware a couple of years ago. I don’t have personal experience of mental health issues, but the idea of being able to offer some support to those who needed it, be they young or old, appealed to me. I knew I had some time to give so I signed up.

For me, the reward comes from helping others in some small way. Life can put a lot of pressure and stress on people. People generally call the Support Line because they want someone to talk to, but really, it’s a listening service.

Through my work with Aware, I’ve learned to be a better listener, which has helped me in my own life. In today’s world, being a good listener is an invaluable skill.

shutterstock_352290329 Shutterstock / ponsulak Shutterstock / ponsulak / ponsulak

“Doing this work has kept me grounded”

Annette Byrne has been volunteering with Aware for close to three decades, offering her skills to many different services provided by the charity.

In the early 1990s I experienced depression and attended an Aware support group. I met wonderful, caring people there, and was asked to train as a support group volunteer. That’s how my time with Aware began, and I have had many roles there since.

When you have gone through depression yourself, it’s so rewarding to feel you can be there for someone else who might be struggling. Often people just need to talk through their concerns and be pointed towards the help and support they need.

Many people still find it difficult to talk about mental health issues in our society, and depression or bipolar disorder are still misunderstood conditions. Aware provides a very safe space for support and information, with a lot of help from its volunteers. Being part of that is a privilege and has kept me grounded. 

If you have empathy and are a good listener then you are already halfway there as a volunteer, and the detailed training that is provided will help you take it one step further.

shutterstock_642567382 Shutterstock / Farknot Architect Shutterstock / Farknot Architect / Farknot Architect

“I love being part of a team”

Father of three David Gantly is based in Kildare and has been a volunteer with Aware’s Support Line for six years.

Sometimes at the end of a [Support Line] call, the person at the other end of the line will simply say, ‘thank you’. That heartfelt thanks can be very uplifting. You can see that you have helped in a small way, by helping someone find light in a dark situation.

My wife first suggested the idea of volunteering with Aware after she saw an advert in the church newsletter. I was retired, had some time on my hands, and felt I might have something to offer. Six years on, it continues to be such a rewarding experience, and one I would recommend unreservedly. 

Some calls can be very difficult, as you are hearing from people in a bad way. It can be tough to share in that, but Aware provides excellent and relevant training as well as ongoing support to volunteers. There’s a great atmosphere with the volunteers and with full-time staff, and there’s a real sense of teamwork. It’s a great team to be involved with.”

Don’t underestimate what you can offer as a volunteer. Just being there for someone, and listening with empathy, can mean a lot in times of difficulty. 

Journal Media Studio / YouTube

Are you a good listener who is interested in offering your time to help others? Aware is urgently seeking volunteers. Full training is provided remotely, and you can volunteer from home, provided you have a reliable internet connection and a quiet place to work from.

No prior experience is necessary, though a knowledge of CBT is required to volunteer for Life Skills Online. Visit the Aware website for more information on volunteer requirements, or apply via the buttons below.

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