Belfast Telegraph

Charity chief planning to raise awareness of brain injuries

Support: Joe McVey
Support: Joe McVey
Claire Williamson

By Claire Williamson

It's a silent disability - but it impacts on thousands of children and adults in Northern Ireland every year.

Acquired Brain Injury occurs after birth and is not related to a congenital or a degenerative disease.

These impairments may be temporary or permanent, and cause partial or functional disability or psychological maladjustment. The injury can be caused by a number of factors, including trauma among others.

The Brain Injury Matters charity was established in 1999 to support adults and families affected, after they are discharged from hospital.

Its mission is to support children, adults and families to help rebuild their lives and reach their full potential in family and community life.

Its new chief executive, Joe McVey, said what strikes him most is that it is like an "invisible disability".

He said: "It can affect children and families and adults, and on first sight there may be no evidence at all that there is a disability and people live with a lifelong condition."

He described the impact it can have: "Depending on the nature of the injury, it could be around things like self-confidence, their cognitive abilities, it may be around their physical or psychological issues they have.

"A lot of those things may only become apparent as they are discharged from the health side of things - very simple things such as changes in a personality and being able to cope with stress, getting dressed and getting out of the house, and in some cases loss of employment. There may be physical, psychological, emotional or social issues which may not become apparent until you are back home.

"It's looking at the impact it has on the individual but also their families and siblings and their whole experience, whether through school, education or employment.

"One of our aims is to try and raise people's awareness of it and provide as much appropriate support as possible."

Mr McVey said Acquired Brain Injury can have varying degrees of severity and many of those impacted have different needs.

It's a more significant problem than people realise, he explained, as there are thousands of adults and children using the charity's services each year.

"It (brain injury) comes as a bolt from the blue, no warning, and you have very little sense of what the impact will be.

"But six to nine months down the line, when they (family) thought the person would be fine again, then they realise it's a lifelong condition and they think how do they cope with that? And what support they need in terms of coping, strategic or meeting up socially and talking to other people.

"It's quite hard to grasp how life changing it can be."

The services offered depend on the nature of the Acquired Brain Injury but the charity tries to provide a range of help, from clinical support to social.

"We try and provide a unique support. There's a relatively small team of staff but they are all clinicians, having background in psychology or social work or play or speech therapy or creative arts, so they are providing that expertise but at the same time working very closely with other voluntary organisations and statutory partners as well."

One of the areas Mr McVey wants to look at is the number of children affected within the justice system.

He said: "My two areas are, one, to try and raise awareness of Acquired Brain Injuries, the number and impact it has on people.

"And, secondly, to see areas where there may be opportunities for additional support. At the moment that's looking for additional support though the education system and schools.

"Another area coming to the fore is the number of children within the justice system who may also have Acquired Brain Injuries through lifestyle or drug abuse or alcohol.

"There is a lot of people within the system there that could do with some support."

The charity has received funding from the Big Lottery Fund and Children in Need but doesn't receive any statutory support.

Belfast Telegraph


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