GAA urged to do more on mental health

The GAA has been urged to increase efforts to help young players battling with mental health issues, after a new documentary found that clubs across the country losing members to suicide on a weekly basis.

As excitement builds up ahead of tomorrow’s All-Ireland final, a TV investigation has discovered that GAA organisations are being impacted by tragedies, mainly involving young men.

Ainle Ó Cairealláin, presenter of the TG4 documentary, travelled to Galway, Antrim, and Tyrone, to see how clubs had been affected by recent cases.

Mr Ó Cairealláin himself lost a former GAA manager to suicide. He acknowledged that efforts have been put in place by the GAA and Gaelic Players Association in recent years to increase awareness of mental health.

However, he called on the sporting organisation to implement more measures to help prevent more tragedies.

“It breaks my heart when I hear that someone in the GAA has died,” he said. “You hear it on a weekly basis. It has now become so prevalent that we need to take a closer look at it.

“It’s one thing to have a problem, but it’s a thousand times worse to let the problem fester and do nothing about it.”

In the programme, Tadhg MacIntyre, a leading sports psychologist, said he feels the huge pressures within GAA teams are having a negative effect on some youngsters’ mental health.

“To exercise a couple of times a week has huge psychological benefits, but to be part of a team that’s in a very pressurised environment can be for some a very risky environment,” said Dr MacIntyre.

Former Cork hurler Conor Cusack, who is widely praised for raising awareness of mental health, also contributed to the documentary, urging young men with mental health problems to “unburden themselves”.

“Some of the stories I’ve heard are heartbreaking,” said Mr Cusack. “But equally, I’ve seen a huge amount of hope from various initiatives around the country.

“The important message to people is that it’s okay not to feel okay, and it’s absolutely okay to ask for help.”

On occasions during the poignant programme, Mr Ó Cairealláin held back tears as he heard first-hand of the impact of the losses of young GAA players on team-mates.

He added: “Because the GAA is so extensive and has such a strong presence in almost every community in the country, it’s in a great position to help people. I’m sure it already helps people and who knows how many more lives would have been lost, were it not for the GAA.

“However, there must be more we can do. There must be.”.

Taobh Thiar den Gheansaí is on TG4 at 9.30pm tomorrow.

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