Singer Janet Devlin supports ASCERT's RETHINK YOUR DRINK campaign
Northern Ireland singer & social media influencer Janet Devlin has spoken about her battle with alcoholism and mental health struggles.
Speaking recently on behalf of the charity ASCERT Janet revealed one thing most people who are at the mercy of addiction need is a “safe space” to talk about their difficulties.
The singer emphasized how important it was in a person’s healing process for those around them to: “Be able to approach the alcoholic or addict with an open heart and mind; creating a safe, welcoming & non-judgemental environment, and to be there for them whenever they are ready to talk”
ASCERT is a charity providing support services across Northern Ireland, working with people who have alcohol and/or substance misuse issues.
Gary McMichael, Chief Executive of ASCERT set up the charity in 1998 as a response to concerns around drug problems within the community.
Over the past 25 years, the charity has grown to become one of the most prominent regional service providers in Northern Ireland, delivering a range of alcohol & drug prevention, intervention, training and awareness services to people of all ages.
“All of us experience some type of challenges or pressure with our own mental health at some point in our lives. In fact, one in five people will have a mental health problem of some description during their life,” said Gary.
“When it comes to alcohol, that's a different issue because around 80% of the population drink alcohol and a significant number of those drink at levels which are problematic for them. Although alcohol is more socially acceptable, there is still a great deal of stigma around reaching out for help if it has become a problem for you personally”
Janet came home to Northern Ireland to support 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.
“Being able to talk about these things, before they become problematic is really important since alcohol issues and mental health issues often go hand in hand” said Gary.
“We need to encourage everyone within the community to be able to be more comfortable and open - to talk about what’s going on for them, and for them to know that there are support services available tohelp whenever they need it.”
The three pillars of ASCERT’s campaign are AWARE, PREPARE, and ENGAGE, providing people with information about alcohol including its effects and risks; tools to encourage people to check their own alcohol intake by taking an Alcohol MOT or visiting the Virtual Bar and resources to help people make positive changes in their life, reducing the harm alcohol could cause. If a person doesn’t feel able to make this change on their own, ASCERT can help them with free, confidential support.
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.
“Organisation’s 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% 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