My Story - Donna McAleese raises awareness of Mental Health

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week (11th – 17th May), Donna wanted to tell her story of working with people with mental ill-health, to raise awareness of the issues and reduce stigma.

Becoming a volunteer has been one of my best choices in life 

Donna McAleese from Clady is an enthusiastic volunteer with Praxis Care, as part of Together For You, a mental health and wellbeing project funded by the Big Lottery Fund.  As part of Mental Health Awareness Week (11th – 17th May), Donna wanted to tell her story of working with people with mental ill-health, to raise awareness of the issues and reduce stigma…It’s ok not to be ok’.

My career began at the age of 18, nursing people with mental ill health and learning disability.  This was a role I thoroughly enjoyed and I found it both rewarding and fulfilling.  Unfortunately, due to illness, I was unable to stay in this position and was forced to reconsider my career path.  Having since been employed in a variety of jobs outside health and social care, I have always had a desire to reintroduce elements of my former role into my life again.  I considered a variety of volunteer opportunities but, when I read an advertisement calling for Befrienders, I was immediately drawn to Praxis Care and Together For You.”

Donna has now been a volunteer befriender for over a year, and is thoroughly enjoying the role.

I would consider my decision to volunteer to be one of my better choices in life.  I believe that this type of position is different to other voluntary roles in that it offers both parties the unique opportunity to get to know each other on a deeper level and to become real friends.  This brings rewards on a number of levels – not only for the volunteer and their friend – but also to the families of those who care full-time for people with mental ill health.” 

One of the key drivers behind the Volunteer Befriending scheme is to reduce social isolation.  This means that the role can be what you make it and there are no restrictions in terms of activities undertaken, for example nipping out for a coffee, going to the cinema, a walk in the park, attending other social group activities….the list is endless.  

Donna explains “Sometimes because of the individual’s mental ill-health, it’s not always possible to go out.  Having the patience to wait until my friend feels comfortable and well enough to go out is a key part of the role.  However, I have found that even just by being there, having conversations about what’s happening in both our lives, makes a big impact.  I can see them visibly uplifted as we talk.

Volunteer befriending doesn’t just impact the befriendee however; it also benefits the individual’s family and friends.  Indeed, Donna has been thanked on numerous occasions “for not giving up”.

Donna plans to continue being a volunteer in the long-term:  “I love it. I find it really fulfilling, doing something with a purpose. It’s really nice to be able to get close to someone…to develop a long-lasting friendship. As a volunteer, it is also nice to have no restrictions in terms of times or activities.  This means that, together, we can inject some fun into what we do by focusing on our hobbies and interests.

Praxis Care and Together For You are still looking for volunteer befrienders. “I would definitely recommend it to others.  If you are someone who would like to give something back, this is a great scheme.”

To find out more about volunteer befriending with Praxis Care and Together For You, contact Catherine on: 028 9072 7161 / 028 9023 4555 / or email volunteering@praxiscare.org.uk .  For further information on services available with Together For You visit www.togetherforyou.org.uk

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