Your mental health is similar to your physical health - it needs regular maintenance

Former Cork camogie captain Anna Geary tells Áilín Quinlan about her role in raising awareness of the importance of having good mental health.

Mental health is an important issue says Anna Geary, reality TV coach and former captain of the Cork senior camogie team — the rest of us, she believes, really should start thinking about it more.

Later this month, Geary, known from her stint as a coach on the hit RTÉ series Ireland’s Fittest Family, is taking time out from her busy schedule to appear at Nemo Rangers GAA club in Cork to discuss everything from mental health to healthy eating.

One of the most important messages people need to get, she insists, is that even when they don’t have a significant mental health challenge — such as depression — they still need to understand the importance of looking after their mental health.

“Your mental health is similar to your physical health in that it needs regular maintenance!

“And that is what is really important here. When people hear about mental health, they are often hearing a story of struggle and difficulty.

“A lot of people think that if they don’t have a negative experience of mental health they don’t need to worry about their mental health.”

However, as she points out, many people who don’t, for example, have a physical complaint such as obesity or heart disease, still exercise regularly — you see them regularly, walking their dogs, cycling, or jogging through the early morning streets.

The same discipline, believes Geary, should be applied to our mental health and she’s prepared to walk the walk on this — the holder of four All-Ireland medals and three All-Star awards, will be facilitating special interactive sessions at Nemo Rangers on Saturday, February 18 in a new roadshow being run as part of a pioneering project by the GAA to transform its clubs around Ireland into ‘healthy hubs’.

Along with other GAA luminaries — Tyrone football manager Mickey Harte, Kilkenny hurler Michael Fennelly, and Dublin footballer Philly McMahon — the Cork woman, who is also well known as a sports commentator on radio and TV, has thrown her support behind the GAA’s award-winning Healthy Clubs Project (HCP) which uses the critical position of GAA clubs at the heart of many communities to encourage and promote healthier lifestyles.

Created in 2013, with the support of the HSE, the National Office for Suicide Prevention, Irish Life, and Healthy Ireland, the HCP plans to transform the country’s 1,600 GAA clubs into busy hubs promoting community health and wellbeing.

The initiative covers a variety of topics, from physical activity to emotional wellbeing, healthy eating, drug, alcohol, and gambling education, as well as anti-smoking information and the provision of activities for older members of the community.

Last month saw the launch of the latest stage of the HCP campaign — four planned roadshows in Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connacht have already started rolling out in a bid to inspire and empower more GAA clubs to support their members and communities in pursuit of better physical, social, and mental wellbeing by getting involved in the HCP.

“The GAA is in a privileged position in that it has access to every community across Ireland,” says Geary, who wants to see more understanding about, and emphasis within, the general community on the importance of maintaining, good mental health.

The message about the need to maintain a reasonable level of general physical fitness is well established — but she points out, it’s only in recent years that the need for people to manage their mental health has come to the fore.

“People are only starting to see the importance of good mental health.

“You don’t need to have a mental health struggle to realise the need to maintain your mental health,” she says, pointing to the hugely successful reception given last year to the Cork Beats Stress initiatives by Midleton GAA club and St Finbarr’s GAA clubs with the Cork Beats Stress workshops last year.

“These clubs were actively looking to help people improve the management of their mental health, but they were not focusing on people with mental health difficulties, because this is something everyone should be working on,” says Geary, who is currently qualifying as a life coach after years working in the corporate marketing and PR sector.

Employers can learn something from the HCP too, she believes, even down to an awareness that even small things such as running a yoga class for employees or providing fresh fruit in the canteen twice a week, can be helpful.

“The HCP is about the GAA using resources within communities and rolling out these initiatives.

“It’s a really positive step. It’s very much also about an acknowledgement of the crucial role played by the grassroots clubs, across Ireland. I’m glad to see this project being rolled out across the GAA clubs of the country.”

  • The Munster Roadshow — Nemo Rangers GAA Club, Cork, 10am-2pm on Saturday February 18.
  • The Leinster Roadshow — Croke Park, Dublin, 10am-2pm, Saturday March 11
  • The Ulster Roadshow, Jordanstown University of Ulster, Belfast, Saturday April 1, 10am-2pm.
  • For more information, visit: www.gaa.ie/community Follow: @officialgaa or Like: www.facebook.com/officialgaa/ #gaahealth


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