All posts by actionmentalhealth

A man in his 40s with an elderly woman in their home.

A privilege and a struggle: David’s story

A man in his 40s with an elderly lady, in their home. Text reads: A struggle and a privilege. David's story.

This week is Carers’ Week, a week dedicated to raising awareness of 5.7 million unpaid carers across the UK. It’s also Loneliness Awareness Week. It feels appropriate that the two dates coincide this year.

At Action Mental Health, we want to amplify the stories of Carers within our network, shining a light on the isolation many experience and sharing what brings them hope. This is David’s story.

I’m David. I’m retired, and I have been a Carer for 10 years. I cared for my father until he sadly passed away two years ago, and I still care for my mother.  

My mother is visited four times a day by callers who help get her dressed, fed and occasionally showered. Their visits are short, but I’m thankful for them. The rest of my mother’s care is down to me. I get very little support, have never received any monetary assistance, although I was able to claim one extra year towards my pension because I was caring for both parents.

For me, being a Carer means putting your own life on hold. It’s absolutely a privilege, but it’s also a struggle, and it does mean depriving yourself and your own family of time and memories. Often caring can cause a strain on your relationships – that’s certainly been the case for me, and at times it can be really draining. At times, I feel totally burned out. And it feels like there’s no one who can take my place.

It’s hard, but there are things that bring me hope or encouragement; like knowing my loved one is being cared for by someone who loves her, and that she doesn’t feel abandoned.

Being a Carer has been quite an isolating experience. For a long time, I hadn’t even met any other Carers – I only started meeting others during Carers’ Week last year, and before then I didn’t know that any help at all was available to me. Since meeting others, and sharing our experiences together, I would say I’ve been in a better place, like I’ve had a pat on the back and some recognition for what I’m doing.

If I were to think of some of the things I wish more people knew about being a Carer, I’d say I wish they knew it’s not something you can prepare yourself for. The health of the person you’re caring for changes over time, and therefore so do their needs. You’re caring for their physical, social and mental wellbeing. And of course, every caring situation is unique.

There are over 220,000 people in Northern Ireland who are providing unpaid care for a family member or friend with a physical or mental illness or disability. Our Mindful Carers project empowers carers across Northern Ireland to maintain positive physical and emotional wellbeing.

Lifelong Friends Raising Adrenaline and Funds for Action Mental Health

Lifelong friends Mark Montgomery and Wayne Boyd are taking part in a sponsored sky dive on Saturday 22 June 2024 to raise funds for Action Mental Health. As best friends for most of their lives they are known for constantly pushing each other out of their respective comfort zones. The intrepid duo have never taken part in a sky dive before, but they both love an adrenaline rush, partly due to their mutual love for motorsport.

Mark said, “Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane and accelerating towards the ground from several thousand feet in the sky, with only a thin bit of fabric, is definitely one way to get that rush and the wind in your hair, while raising awareness and money for mental health and in turn helping others out. We can’t think of any better way to help promote this cause than by doing this challenge.”

 “Wayne is a professional racing driver, so I get to attend most of his races all over the world. There is always something to push us both out of our comfort zones. We came up with the idea of challenging ourselves to a sky dive, and after doing some research into it, we realised the charity we both wanted to support was Action Mental Health. We are doing the sky dive as mental health is a big part of my life and I don’t think it gets the recognition it deserves. It is particularly poignant as I lost my father to suicide and I struggle myself with mental health issues, so it means a lot to me”.

Both Wayne and Mark believe there is not enough awareness out there for men who suffer from mental ill health. They are excited to be able to do their bit to help promote it as best they can and have already set up a Just Giving page. Initially raising over £1000 in just 24 hours, they are hoping to raise their target of £3000 – Action Mental Health organise many fundraising activities you can become involved in throughout the year to raise vital funds for mental health services in Northern Ireland. Or like Mark and Wayne you may like to set your own challenge to fundraise for us. More information on our fundraising events and activities is available at

Curtis and his wife at the Belfast marathon finish line with their medals

Curtis’ story

I’ve wanted to run a marathon for a long time. I’ve been a keen runner since I was a teenager, and have really enjoyed running in several half marathons previously. I’ll admit that I have some competitive tendencies, which have fueled the desire a bit – my wife ran the Belfast marathon back in 2019, something she still likes to hold over me as something she’s done and that I haven’t. My dad has also told me stories of his running days, and his ridiculously fast finishing times. Part of me would love to try and beat him! So, taking on a marathon of my own has always felt like a bit of a ‘when’, not an ‘if’.

This year, my wife and I took part in the Belfast marathon relay to raise money for Action Mental Health – a local charity here in Northern Ireland that’s offering really vital mental health services to people in my own community. I’ve had periods in my life when I’ve struggled with my own mental health. I’m incredibly grateful that during those times, I was able to access help through my GP, and was supported to find ways to cope and recover. But I know that there are so many people out there who are waiting for far too long for the support they really desperately need.

Running to raise funds and awareness for Action Mental Health felt like a brilliant opportunity for me to support a cause that matters to me, and to show others who might be struggling that there are people out there who care. The race day itself was a lot of fun; it was great to run as part of the team, and to be part of Belfast at its best. And I totally caught the running bug again – I came home and immediately began thinking about what running challenge I could take on next. And I decided that it was finally time to take on the full 26.2 miles!

I’m so pleased to be able to raise even more money and even greater awareness for Action Mental Health. They’re a brilliant charity, and they support people in such a wide variety of ways. They work with children and young people in schools to help them learn how to take care of their mental health from a young age. They offer personal development and skills training for people who are recovering from mental ill health. They have a therapeutic counselling service, as well as programmes to support people with chronic pain or illness, and programmes for carers. They offer workplace training so that employers can create healthier working environments for their staff… and that’s not even all of it. But people don’t necessarily know that this vital work is happening, and I think part of that is to do with the stigma that still surrounds mental illness. We’re getting better as a society at talking about it, but we still have a long way to go.

I really hope that by running the Dublin marathon for Action Mental Health, I can show my own community that mental health matters, and that support is out there and recovery is possible. And I do hope, even just a little bit, that I can beat my dad’s finishing time when I do it, too!   

Beautiful glass creations from Action Mental Health clients

Our New Horizons group in Newtownards have marked this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week by creating an incredible collection of fused and Tiffany glass pieces.

The 26-piece collection includes kiln-fused glass layered pieces, some accentuated with paint and frit, the latter, a kiln-safe ground glass compound and Tiffany glass, where glass is cut, ground then soldered together. The work has been submitted to ‘Pause’, Northern Ireland’s Mental Health Arts Festival.

With significant scientific evidence attributed to the benefits of the arts to help lessen anxiety and stress and increase wellbeing, our Newtownards facility offers a welcoming and calming space, where clients can share stories and create beautiful artwork, worthy of any gallery.

“Our clients leave their troubles at the door for a few hours and become part of a small group, learning all about communication through creativity. The sessions are great for mental health, because they bring the opportunity to explore feelings and emotions artistically. It can also enable people to have conversations about mental health in a way that other experiences and activities may not always deliver. The artwork is a celebration of the work created by clients over the last year and I feel tremendously privileged to be part of this empowering and positive process.”

Marcus Sprott, Creative Arts Skills Coach at Action Mental Health

Action Mental Health’s New Horizons supports the recovery of adults experiencing mental ill health who are interested in progressing towards further education and training or, with the provision of a comprehensive programme of specialist training in the areas of personal development, vocational skills and employability. For further information on this service please contact Selwyn Johnston, AMH New Horizons Service Manager on 028 9182 2410.

Girl in early twenties sits at home with a cup of tea.

Little movements, big difference

Girl in early twenties sits at home with a cup of tea. Text reads: Little movements, big difference

Chloe* shares with us how her understanding of ‘moving’ more for her mental health has changed after experiencing a period of isolation feeling low.

For a long time, when I heard that ‘movement’ was good for our mental health, my mind would always immediately jump to running, cycling, swimming, even walking. For me, ‘movement’ = exercise; I probably felt like it didn’t count unless I was breaking a sweat.

But last year I found myself in a situation that taught me that sometimes, it’s the smallest and simplest movements that matter.

I had been working in a job I loved for over four years. My colleagues were scattered all over the UK and we didn’t have any kind of central ‘office’ where we met, so I was working remotely at home pretty much 100% of the time.

For the first three years, this didn’t bother me at all. A proud introvert, I knew that I worked best on my own, without the distraction of other people around me. I love my own space, and working from home meant I was always surrounded by my favourite plants and books and art, as well as my slippers and blankets. I could eat whatever I fancied for lunch, and could even work through the laundry or pop to the supermarket during my lunch break. In lots of ways, it was brilliant.

But during those first three years, I took for granted the fact that there was usually someone else at home who could lure me out of my office for a break every now and then. When I lived with my parents, my mum who only works part time would often call me downstairs for a cup of coffee. When I lived with a friend, we’d hard-stop work at 5pm and head out for a walk while it was still light.

Things changed a little when I moved again, and was suddenly alone for a lot longer than I had been before. And while I still enjoyed my own company, the absence of coffee breaks and after-work walks left a big gap. I don’t think I was conscious of it at the time, so I’m not really sure how or when it happened, but I quite quickly began to lose motivation to get outside or move at all.

I would wake up in the morning and choose sweats and a hoody over the nicer workwear I normally would have picked. Sure, the comfy clothes had been nice on the odd day when I didn’t have a lot of calls or was feeling a little under the weather, but this was every day. I started snoozing my alarm, first allowing myself an extra 15 minutes or half an hour under the duvet, but eventually resetting it all together so it rang just 10 minutes before my daily 9am meeting, for which I’d roll out of bed and straight down the stairs. I’d grab something quick and comforting for lunch and bring it to the sofa, or on some days even sneak back to bed for a 20 minute nap during my break. And when the day was done, I’d close the laptop and walk five steps to the living room where I’d flop back down again and watch TV for the rest of the evening.

As I write those words, I have to battle the little part of my brain that thinks I was just being lazy. Because sure, it kind of sounds that way. But I wasn’t being lazy. Long periods of isolation and, I guess, a degree of loneliness, had just kind of drawn the energy out of me, and I wasn’t practicing any kind of self care that might have helped. I wasn’t sad or anxious during that time, but I was just achey and tired. My husband and I now joke about it being my ‘slump’ era, but that is how it felt.

I realised eventually that the way I was living wasn’t conducive to a healthy or happy lifestyle, and that something really needed to change. For me, that change looked like a new job – although that won’t be the right move for everyone in my position, it was the right time for me. I know that the ability to work from home is a real lifeline for some, and flexibility is really important. But just because of my own circumstances, I looked specifically for jobs that were in the office rather than working-from-home, and was lucky to quite quickly find a new role that required that short but all-important commute AND that aligned with my values and skills.

From the first day in that new role, my routine had to look different. I woke up earlier, and ate a real breakfast. I chose an outfit that made me feel good and put together. I sat and had a cup of coffee with my husband before we both left the house around the same time. I left the house and allowed the sun to hit my face and my legs to move a little for the few seconds it took to get from the front door to the car. I listened to music on the drive. I took more steps across the car park. And then I spent my day working, yes, but in a room with other people who occasionally would offer a cup of tea or a walk to the local café for lunch. They weren’t big movements. But they made such a big difference.

If you’re reading this, and ‘exercise’ feels too hard, can I encourage you to think about taking a smaller step? Even just to open a window, or put the kettle on. Poke your head outside, even just for a moment, and breathe in some fresh air and let the sun warm your face. Or if you have a friend who you know is at risk of feeling a little bit isolated, please invite them out for a coffee or a walk – you don’t know how important those moments could be for them!

Now, when I hear that movement helps our mental health, I don’t think of marathons or hikes – although of course these things are brilliant, too. I think of the little steps – out of bed, out of the house, across the carpark. And I really believe that they matter. They’ve improved my mental health significantly, and I’m grateful that they’re part of my daily rhythms and routines.

*Names have been changed for anonymity.

Two women walking a dog in a forest. Text reads: Moving more for our mental health.

Moving more for our mental health

Lauren from the Action Mental Health Works team shares some of the mental health benefits of exercise, and some tips for incorporating more movement into our lifestyle.

Many of us know that movement is a great way to lift your mood and improve anxiety levels. Yet when busy, overwhelmed or struggling with your mental health, it can often feel difficult to find the time, motivation or energy to incorporate exercise. This Mental Health Awareness Week, Action Mental Health want to help break down the barriers to exercise and help people to incorporate moments for movement in their daily life.

What are the mental health benefits of exercise?

Many of us have heard of the “mood-boosting” or “stress-relieving” benefits of daily movement, but what does that really mean? We believe that understanding WHY exercise aids mental health can play a vital role in helping people to incorporate it into their daily routines.

Regular physical activity is proven to improve mental health, quality of life and wellbeing.1 Exercise increases the production of endorphins such as serotonin and dopamine, which are responsible for improving mood and energy levels. It promotes reduces inflammation and increases neural growth, promoting feelings of calm and wellbeing. Exercise can provide a healthy mechanism to process difficult emotions and build self-esteem by focusing on what the body is capable of.

Exercise can ease anxiety and alleviate stress. Anxiety symptoms often relate to the body’s “fight or flight” response- whereby the body releases excessive stress hormones in response to a real or perceived stressor. For those experiencing anxiety, the fight or flight response may be frequently triggered, resulting in uncomfortable symptoms including a racing heart, hyperventilation, shakiness and nausea. Exercise can help control this “fight or flight” reaction by activating the frontal regions of the brain, controlling the amygdala- the part of the brain responsible for reacting to real or perceived danger. Additionally, movement decreases muscle tension, lowering the body’s contribution to feeling anxious.

What kind and how much exercise is the right amount?

There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to how much exercise we should do and what type of movement is best. If exercise isn’t currently part of your routine, the thought of joining a gym or lacing up your running trainers may feel too overwhelming and that’s okay! Studies have shown that as little as 5-10 minutes of exercise a day can have a significant impact on anxiety levels and mood.

We recommend starting slow and focusing on a form of exercise you think you might enjoy. Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous in order to see the mental benefits. Research shows that moderate exercise has the greatest benefits, for most people this means:

  • Breathing a little heavier than normal, but not totally out of breath. For example, going for a walk with a friend and being able to chat throughout, but not easily sing.
  • Feeling a little warmer than usual, but not super sweaty.

Exercise doesn’t have to fit the conventional mould in order to be good for you! Cleaning the house, playing with your kids outside or even getting off the bus a stop earlier are all things which can raise your heartrate without feeling too overwhelming.

Overcoming barriers to exercise

When you’re struggling with mental ill-health, exercise can feel incredibly difficult- you know it may make you feel better, but perhaps you don’t have the energy to work out, or the social aspect of the gym makes it feel especially daunting. Be kind to yourself as you aim to incorporate movement into daily life. Here are some tips that may help aid a more self-compassionate approach to exercise:

  • Schedule movement for when you feel your best. If you find that the workday leaves you feeling drained and exhausted, a 5pm gym class may not be an achievable goal right now. Instead, you may find that a 15 minute YouTube workout in the morning helps you to feel accomplished and energized before the day begins. Similarly, if you take medication that leaves you feeling drowsy in the mornings, you may want to wait until lunchtime before you head for a walk. Scheduling your movement for when you feel most able allows you to build confidence and momentum.
  • Focus on activities you enjoy. Many of us have grown up with idea that exercise must involve struggle in order to count- but this couldn’t be further from the truth! If you have always despised the gym, it’s probably not the best place to start your exercise journey. Remember- exercise is simply about getting your body moving and when you choose a form you enjoy, you’ll be much more likely to stick with it. Exercise isn’t just 10Ks and weightlifting – you could try gardening, walking around the shopping centre while window shopping, taking the kids of the park or dancing in the kitchen while dinner cooks!
  • Congratulate yourself for the good days and don’t beat yourself up for the bad ones. The key to any long-lasting lifestyle change is focusing on progress, not perfection. On the days where you manage to incorporate movement, take some time to congratulate yourself for the barriers you had to overcome to get there. You may want to reward yourself with an act of self-care, a nice meal or even just verbal affirmations. There will also be days where exercise just isn’t a possibility- maybe your schedule is too full or you simply aren’t feeling well enough- that is okay. Rest is often just as important as movement. On the days where you can’t incorporate exercise, try to practice self-compassion in a different way- whether that’s running yourself a bubble bath, doing some journaling or getting an early night.

If you’re looking for some quick and easy ways to move your body more, check out our resources created for Mental Health Awareness Week 2024.

  1. Global action plan on physical activity 2018–2030: more active people for a healthier world. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO. ↩︎

Youth mental health project OUR Generation to return under PEACEPLUS

Action Mental Health is delighted to announce that the OUR Generation Project has been awarded funding under the European Union’s PEACEPLUS Programme.

PEACEPLUS is managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) and represents a funding partnership between the European Union, the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Government of Ireland and the Northern Ireland Executive.

OUR Generation is a partnership led by Action Mental Health, and the aim of the renewed project will be empowering and investing in our young people.

Bringing together the expertise of nine partner organisations, the project is committed to delivering impactful initiatives under the specific objective of ‘Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing.’

The cross-border partnership consists of: Action Mental Health, Donegal Youth Service, Co-operation Ireland, Youth Action NI, Youth Work Ireland, Playboard NI, Boys & Girls Clubs NI, Include Youth, & Ulster University.

The Project will develop and deliver programmes to increase mental health literacy, enhance emotional resilience, build the leadership skills of children and young people (aged 9-25) and will lead research in mental health and the impact of trauma on our communities.

The partnership builds on the highly successful PEACE IV OUR Generation Project (which ran until September 2023) and will run in education, youth and community settings across Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland. The Project will contribute to peace and reconciliation through a range of cross-community and cross-border youth mental health and wellbeing models, peace and youth leadership programmes, and programmes which instil confidence in young people to act as agents of change, building peace for future generations.

David Babington, Chief Executive of lead partner Action Mental Health, welcomed the news. He said:

“Action Mental Health is delighted that the OUR Generation Project has been awarded funding under PEACEPLUS. This new funding will enable us to further empower and invest in our young people to develop their mental wellbeing and resilience and to help peacebuilding in our communities. The OUR Generation Project partnership is very well established and has a strong foundation on which to build for the future.”

He added: “We are delighted to be working with our team of partners once again, and on behalf of the project, I would like to extend a very warm welcome to our two new project partners in Boys & Girls Clubs NI, and Include Youth.”

SEUPB CEO Gina McIntyre said: “We are delighted to support the OUR Generation project. Creating a better future for all our young people is one of the core objectives of the PEACEPLUS Programme. This funding will support children and young people to overcome mental health challenges which are one of the longest and most persistent legacies of the conflict.”

A project supported by PEACEPLUS, a programme managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB).

For further information on PEACEPLUS funding click here.

Memorial Music Event Drumming up Funds for Action Mental Health New Horizons Downpatrick

The forthcoming Splinter’s Music Bash set in the enigmatic surroundings of Ballydugan Mill just outside Downpatrick, plans to drum up cash through music for Action Mental Health services in Downpatrick. The free event on Saturday 18 May in memory of the late Downpatrick-based Dr Stan Papenfus, will showcase the prolific variety of local musical talent.

Although the event is free to attend, an on the day donation goal of £2000 has been set with all money raised supporting vital mental health services at Action Mental Health’s Downpatrick service.

Dr Stan Papenfus was highly regarded in the mental health field, working locally as a psychotherapist in Downe Hospital, Downpatrick. He was also a lecturer, author and a proponent of using music creatively to unlock emotions and increase happiness. Stan’s sons Ken and Carl are both musicians well-known in the industry. The pair are currently part of the RTE Late Late Show house band and will attend the Ballydugan event as guests.

Event organiser and percussionist Aiden Milligan said, “We are suggesting £5 donations at the door. Ballydugan are providing free food and the craic will be great with some of the best local bands playing their sets in the atmospheric setting of Ballydugan Mill. It’s a day of celebration of music and of life and of remembrance of Stan and all for a great cause!”

Aiden met Stan while on his own mental health recovery journey and their shared appreciation of music and outlook on life forged a life-long friendship. Aiden said, “Stan was an academic but first and foremost he was a people person. He had a genuine interest in everybody’s story and where he could help he would.”

Aiden has music in his blood, performing in various bands and providing session backing for local groups including those with learning difficulties, non-verbal groups and mental health groups. Aiden is also an accomplished Bodhran player, initially learning how to play the instrument in 1992 and later reaching the all-Ireland final. He then became involved with novice musicians offering tuition over a 16-year period.

Aiden said, “We’re really delighted to announce that the gig will feature artists such as Speedy Mullan Blues Band, Black Dog Moon, Mark Higgins Band, Davy McBennett Band, Conal Montgomery, The Bin Lids and The Anchor Ukes. It will be great to have them all under one roof, for such a great cause and in memory of such a fantastic man.”

Continuing, “Stan was greatly respected as a renowned cultural anthropologist, psychotherapist, ecumenist, community musician and writer and was a great advocate for bringing people together through music and creativity. This could be through the use of simple beats, drum rhythms, clapping, dancing, singing or moving to music. So remembering Stan in aid of Action Mental Health through music is very apt.”

The approximate running order times for The Bash performers are as follows:

Harvey Vint 4.00pm; Tommy McNulty 4.3pm; Davy McBennett Band 5.00pm; 3s a Crowd 6.00pm; Conal Montgomery 6.30pm; The Bin Lids 7.00pm; Black Dog Moon 8.00pm; Mark Higgins Band 9.00pm; Caroline Nyaka Chana 10.00pm; Tura 10.30pm; The Speedy Mullan Band 11.00pm – 12.30am

For more information on fundraising please visit or email [email protected] or scan the QR link below.

Image: Organiser, Aiden Milligan.