Conor Cusack: Government has not grasped severity of mental health crisis

Hurler and mental health campaigner Conor Cusack has said the Government has still not "grasped the severity" of the country’s mental health crisis and appealed for all parties to pump resources into this area.

The East Cork man, who sprang to national attention a year ago with a powerful blog post on his own mental health struggles, also revealed that he received a call earlier this year from a retired inter-county footballer who said he was staring at a tree in his garden and contemplating taking his life.

Drawing a direct contrast between the swift response of the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) to that episode and to the death of Galway hurler Niall Donohue, and the response of Government to the death by suicide of former junior minister Shane McEntee, he said the country had reached “a threshold” when it came to mental health.

Conor, brother of former Cork goalkeeper Donal Óg, told RTÉ Radio’s Sunday with Miriam programme that the past year “has been an incredible journey”.

“It has been enriching; it has been harrowing hearing some of the stories; it has been very challenging but always, always it has been an absolute privilege to meet so many people.

“I think, sadly, our Government and our politicians still haven’t grasped the severity of this issue in our country.”

He said he watched six hours of coverage of the recent budget and mental health was mentioned “for 30 seconds”. He added that the Opposition was “using the deaths of people by suicide as a stick to beat the Government with”.

Instead, he said the political system needs to adhere to World Health Organisation guidelines which recommend that a country spend 12% of its health budget on mental health. He said the mental health budget in Ireland was 6.5% of the overall health spend, whereas in Britain it was 12% “and they have half the suicide rate per head of population that we have”.

“It’s not rocket science that investing money in this area will help save lives.”

The Cloyne and former Cork hurler said of the possibility of entering politics himself: “The easy answer is to say no.”

He said he was involved in a lot of organisations, including the GAA’s Health and Wellbeing Committee and the GPA, and paid tribute to the efforts of the latter organisation and GAA president Liam O’Neill.

Regarding the crisis call from an ex-inter county footballer six months ago, he revealed that within two hours the player was sitting in front of a counsellor thanks to the GPA’s efforts.

Two months later the footballer spoke with Cusack again and said he was now “basking in the beauty” of the same tree he was staring at just weeks before.

“That is the impact of the GPA,” Mr Cusack said, adding that he was “excited” by the potential of the GAA and GPA to have a positive impact on mental health, but while communities would be at the fore of such efforts, Government support was needed.

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