Exploring the link between between mental health and alcohol use

Volunteers from a Greater Manchester training programme which empowers communities to take control of their alcohol consumption have been sharing their thoughts on alcohol and mental health, the theme for this year’s Alcohol Awareness Week.

Funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the Communities in Charge of Alcohol (CICA) programme trains volunteer ‘Alcohol Health Champions’ to help family, friends and colleagues rethink their drinking habits, with a view to reducing the amount of harmful drinking across Greater Manchester.

Alcohol health trainer and volunteer co-ordinator, Billy Durkin from The Lifestyle Service, Bury, who recruits, trains and supports the volunteers, said:

‘There is a reoccurring link between alcohol use and poor mental health. Though the conversations that volunteers have with individuals can be brief, the impact can be massive for that individual.

‘For the champions too, there is a real sense of satisfaction as they support someone to talk about their alcohol consumption and/or their mental wellbeing.’

CICA volunteers attend a two-day training programme, before becoming Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) Level 2 accredited Alcohol Health Champions.

Once trained, participants can use their knowledge and skills to offer simple, easy to follow advice to family, friends and the wider community.

During the first lockdown in March, some Alcohol Health Champions even helped create an animation about the work they do, to share the project more widely with others.

For Billy, the training is crucial in supporting the volunteers in their journey to help others.

‘The training programme is demanding, especially for individuals who may not have been in any formal education for decades.

‘Volunteers support each other and build lasting relationships – you see their confidence and self-esteem grow. There is a real sense of achievement and satisfaction at achieving the RSPH Level 2 Award.’

Michael has been an Alcohol Health Champion for three years, since meeting Billy, who introduced him to the programme. He explains:

‘I wanted to become an Alcohol Health Champion because it was a chance to help others and do my best to support people in making a change in their lives.

‘Being part of the programme has made me feel that I am empowering others to understand the issues and see what help is available. My involvement in CICA has helped me to feel a sense of doing something worthwhile and having a purpose within life.

‘I can only hope that I have helped others with their mental health and wellbeing too.’

Janis, like Michael, has been a volunteer since 2017. She joined following personal experience of the damage caused by alcohol misuse.

‘My husband has had alcohol problems, so I find the work really rewarding as I know the difference it will make to people.

‘People don’t realise the extent of the link between mental health and alcohol use, something I have learned about through my own experience. I don’t want other people to go through what we went through as a family.’

Anyone wishing to find out more about the project at the University of Salford programme page and on the RSPH programme hub.

Photo Credit – Pixabay


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