AN OMAGH woman is using the experience of her personal battle with depression to help improve the mental health of young people through a new ground-breaking initiative.
Sonya McAleer has spent the most recent lockdown to make preparations for the roll-out of Irish Equestrian Mental Health Project. It is being organised in conjunction with Aware NI and aims to provide a platform for young people both in Tyrone and across the country to access vital help.
Speaking to the UH, Sonya, who recently raised over £7,500 to support the charity through an online equestrian-related raffle, said her own situation had inspired her to do something practical to raise awareness of depression and the support which is available.
“I suffered from depression and anxiety in 2015 and 2016, but unfortunately didn’t know about charities such as Aware NI,” she said.
“All I could do was muddle through and eventually come out the other side. This is why it’s so important for people to know where they can get help.
“As an equestrian coach, I see so often the challenges being faced by young people and their parents and the feeling that they have nowhere to go. This new project will hopefully help to change that.
“What we hope to do is join with Aware NI to get their courses in place within the equestrian community and then tie in with our own initiatives. There is an awareness of the importance of developing these services and coaches like me are at the forefront of working with young people.
“We are equipped to have a conversation with people around mental health, but we need to increase our training to spot the signs around mental health and to deal with them better.”
Sonya hopes that the project will be operational across Ireland and has a vision where it will become an established, well-resourced and effective service for those dealing with mental health issues and depression.
She has already begun working with sports psychologists and has arranged online talks and seminars with top equestrian personalities to see how they have overcome problems in their careers.
“It is my hope that our equestrian participants can see that even the top performers in the sport have to overcome things. It’s to ensure that people are aware that everyone has problems,” she added.
“I have come into so many contacts with children struggling with bullying and adults coping with depression and anxiety and just wanting to help them.
“This is an idea which has been in my head, and the lockdown has facilitated me to develop the idea and bring it to fruition.”
Margaret McCrossan, community fundraiser with Aware NI, said the money raised by Sonya McAleer and her new initiative was particularly important because of the growing number of young people likely to seek help in the coming years.