Something that the world lacks significantly at present is hope.

In the chaos of local and global politics people feel a sense of no control or say.

Couple this with the personal traumas of life, be it bereavement, addiction, stress at work, relationship problems, financial worries, health issues.

It is very easy to become overwhelmed and feel unable to cope. To quote just one of our inspirational speakers this year, Agata Stanek, what we all need is “a glimmer of hope”.

Indeed Agata is a prime example of what makes the Hope, Healing And Growth event so vital. Last year she attended, urged on by a friend who having been at the first event felt it would be of help to Agata in what she herself described as her “darkest period ever”.

The “love and understanding” she experienced in the room was a turning point and gave her the courage to this year take the platform and share her powerful story and lessons learned as a young woman GP battling depression.

It highlighted for me as does Fergus Cooper’s evocative film a ‘The Quiet Shuffling of Feet’ telling the wonderful story of David Bolton, how mental health affects each and every one of us.

If it’s not personally it’s through family, someone we know, work colleagues. The shocking figure of one in five of the population of Northern Ireland having mental health problems and only five per cent of the health budget spent on mental health is a travesty.

Mental health is the biggest crisis facing our society today and a beleaguered health service, as we have seen in the recent weeks, just cannot cope. Three years ago when we first started this event, inspired by Maureen Woods, little did we know the nerve it touched and the momentum it would gather.

People were delighted to have the opportunity to hear first hand the life stories of people who have faced huge challenges and have the courage to tell their stories and share their learning to help others in similar situations to cope and live well.

What had been a one-off event became an information movement helping not just the people most impacted but also their families and friends, their health care professionals and the wider communities in which they live.

It gave a voice, it gave an explanation, it identified coping strategies, it brought help and hope and people sought that help.

This year the Aisling Centre had almost a thousand inquiries, up 48 per cent on the previous year with over 46 per cent of inquiries coming through GPs and 32 per cent self-referrals.

For me a key learning point from this year’s event was the impact and importance of self-care. If we don’t look after ourselves, we cannot look after others.

Many people were there as carers and supporters of others facing the challenges, stresses and strains of daily life and its impact on our physical and mental wellbeing.

I am privileged to be on the board of the Aisling Centre and see at first hand the fantastic work done by the Aisling Centre team who last year supported over 700 people. Saturday’s event recharged my batteries and topped up my determination to continue to do my small bit, that starts with me taking responsibility for how I live with myself and others.

As I said on the day it’s often the very small things that make a huge impact. You don’t know what the person next to you is going through - be kind, reach out and smile.

This was the best possible start to a milestone 30th anniversary year for the Aisling Centre who continue to be a true and vital beacon of Hope, Healing and Growth.