Hurling stars to fundraise for new mental health awareness group

A fundraising game showcasing Galway’s finest hurling talent will take place in Gort on December 28 to raise money for a new mental health awareness group.

‘South Galway Mental Health Awareness’ has been set up to support GAA clubs in the region to identify people who may be suffering from depression or other mental health issues. Nine clubs in the area have signed up to the initiative. These are Gort, Beagh, St Thomas’s, Kinvara, Ardrahan, Kilbeacanty, Balindereen, Clarinbridge and Craughwell. It is hoped this project will eventually be expanded throughout the whole county.

The group has the backing of charity Console, which provides a counselling service and helpline for people bereaved by suicide. The money raised from the hurling game will be used to provide specialist QPR [Question, Persuade, Refer] training to four people in each club. ‘Question, Persuade and Refer’ are three simple steps that anybody can learn to help save a life from suicide.

People trained in QPR learn how to recognise the warning signs of suicide, and how to question, persuade and refer someone to help. When the club members are trained, they can be approached, and people will be assured of discretion and confidentiality. The idea is that the four trained club members will be available to support people in the wider community as well as within the club. Gort hurler and former

inter-county player Enda Linnane, who was a member of the Gort panel which defeated Portumna in the Galway club final last week, is the man behind this initiative. He made contact with the county board which is lending its full support to the project. Mr Linnane has suffered from depression himself and felt the area must be highlighted and de- stigmatised. He says too many people- and young men in particular - are losing their lives to suicide, and the GAA, which is an integral part of every community in Ireland must put support structures for club members in place.

Afraid to speak out

‘’It can be hard for somebody who’s feeling down to confide in a relative or a person close to them. I know that myself. I started to feel depressed when I was a member of the Galway panel back in 2001. I didn’t know who to turn to. I felt if I spoke out about it, people would be talking about me behind my back. Things got very hard, every small problem morphs into a huge thing. I lost interest in everything, even in hurling.’’

Mr Linnane’s parents eventually realised there was something seriously amiss with their son, who in his own words “didn’t even want to get out of bed.’’ They sought help via a counsellor in Galway and he began taking medication. As the years have gone by, his dosage has been reduced from four to one tablet per day, and he says while he is aware that medication is not for everyone, the tablets regulate his mood.

The Gort man says the death of Kilbeacanty hurler and intercounty star Niall Donoghue, only a year ago, cast a huge shadow over south Galway. “It saddens me to think he felt there was nobody he could talk to. The message I want to get out is that being depressed is not life threatening, there are excellent treatments available and plenty of people who want to help. Thankfully there isn’t as much of a stigma around mental health anymore, it is being talked about, but its still not enough, that’s why I decided to start up this group. Don’t ever think you are on your own. A problem shared is a problem halved’’

It is hoped that South Galway Mental Health Awareness will act as a catalyst for the GAA to acknowledge the benefits of having a targeted mental health strategy. Already, county board’s in Galway and right across the country are in the process of appointing health and welfare officers. The group secretary is former garda and Gort club stalwart Jerry Sheehan.

People are good at covering up

He says the sharp rise in the suicide figures show that action needs to be taken to address the issue of mental health. ‘’You could be talking to somebody and not have a clue that they are suffering. People can be extremely good at covering up their problems. Undoubtedly, the on-going economic hardship has not helped either, especially in rural areas, with a lot of people losing work. Having no structure is not good for anybody’s head. There is no shame for anybody in admitting there is a problem and seeking help. If you had a broken leg, you would have to get that treated wouldn’t you?’’

The group’s fund-raising match which takes place at Gort pitch at 2pm on Sunday December 28 will pit Galway’s senior team against a selection of talent from every club in the county. Former Galway hurlers and Gort clubmen Sylvie Linnane, Pearse Piggott, John Commins, and Tom Helebert will manage the county selection team. Tickets are €10 and they can be bought from members in each of the nine clubs and they will also be available on the gate on the day. Jerry Sheehan is encouraging people to support the event. “We are hopeful of a big response. Depression is an illness that does not differentiate. Anybody’s husband, wife, son, daughter, brother or sister, can suffer from mental health problems. I would urge people to come along and I am confident people will respond in a big way. If people can’t make it themselves, we would love if they would buy a ticket anyway to support this worthy cause.’’

Console can be reached at any time on 1800 247 247. The charity has a full time counselling centre at Elm Park, Renmore, Galway. Counselling is available for individuals, couples, families or children who have been affected by suicide. www.console.ie .

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