Medical study reveals the mental strains on top GAA stars

An international study has revealed there is a relative high prevalence and incidence of common mental disorder (CMD) symptoms among elite Gaelic players.

The document, published in the latest edition of The Physician and Sports medicine medical journal, found the symptoms could be associated with severe musculoskeletal injuries, surgeries, recent life events and sport career dissatisfaction.

It comes to the conclusion that “raising the self-awareness of all stakeholders in Gaelic football and hurling about CMD should be prioritised, as well as the evidence-based development and application of adequate preventive and supportive measures aiming to protect athlete’s mental health and empower their quality of life.”

Entitled “Epidemiology of symptoms of common mental disorders among elite Gaelic athletes: a prospective cohort study”, it was authored by former French footballer and FIFPRO chief medical officer Vincent Gouttebarge along with fellow Holland- based academics Johannes L. Tol and Professor Gino M.M.J. Kerkhoffs.

With the assistance of the GPA, the study took place between November 2014 and February 2015. Baseline questionnaires were issued to 650 inter-county players aged 18 and over and divided equally between footballers and hurlers.

A total of 204 (52% footballers, 42% hurlers) responded with 156 agreeing to contribute to a follow-up questionnaire.

After a period of six months, 108 players completed the second questionnaire. In compiling data from the responding players to the initial questionnaire, it was discovered the incidence of CMD symptoms ranged from 23% for adverse alcohol use to 48% for anxiety/depression.

Over 38% were discovered to have experienced distress and 33% of sleep disturbance.

It was ascertained 48% of elite Gaelic athletes admitted to two or more symptoms of CMD, 16% reporting three and almost 8% claiming to suffer from four.

Elite Gaelic players who had sustained one or more severe musculoskeletal injuries (bone, joint, ligament, muscles, tendons) during their career were “two to nearly four times more likely to report symptoms of distress, sleep disturbance, or adverse alcohol behaviour than male professional footballers who had not suffered from severe musculoskeletal injuries during their career.”

In the initial questionnaire, 80% of participants stated they have experienced one or more severe injuries and 67% had experienced one or more life events in the previous six months (eg, a family death, a change in financial situation).

Disenchantment was also a major contributory factor to CMD symptoms.

“In our study, elite Gaelic athletes that were unsatisfied with their sport career were almost six times more likely to report distress than elite Gaelic athletes that were satisfied with their sport career.

These associations with all stressors included in our study are in line with previous studies conducted among professional footballers.”

Providing perspective to their findings, Gouttebarge, Tol and Kerkhoffs confirm Gaelic players are more susceptible to excessive alcohol consumption than professional footballers.

“From 2013 to 2015, the World Players’ Union (FIFPro) — representing more than 65,000 footballers worldwide — conducted both a cross-sectional and a longitudinal study about symptoms of CMD among around 750 professional footballers recruited in 17 countries. Prevalence of symptoms of CMD among professional footballers were 10–15% for distress, 26–38% for anxiety/depression, 23% for sleep disturbance, and 9–19% for adverse alcohol use which is lower than the prevalence rates we found in our study among elite Gaelic athletes.”

They also highlight anxiety/depression among elite Gaelic players is more prevalent than in the general populations of Australia where anxiety/depression ranged from 13% to 19% and the Netherlands where it ranged from 17% to 25% (general and practice population, young male employees).

The study would appear to endorse the work currently being done by the GPA in the area of mental health awareness. “In contrast to physical health, mental health still remains a taboo subject among athletes. This study should contribute to raising the self-awareness of all stakeholders in elite Gaelic football and hurling but also in professional that is elite sports. Providing members of the GPA with thorough information about CMD should be seen as a minimum standard.

“Also, a previous qualitative study among young elite athletes has indicated that stigma and the lack of mental health literacy about CMD were the most important perceived barriers to seeking help for CMD. Consequently, raising the self-awareness about CMD that might occur during the career of elite Gaelic athletes should be empowered.”

Under the “practical implications” heading, the authors add: “With regard to the association of severe musculoskeletal injuries and surgeries with symptoms of CMD, a multidisciplinary approach is justified for the medical care and support of elite Gaelic athletes. After severe injury and/or surgery, the medical team of the athlete should be aware of the potential occurrence of symptoms of CMD and properly prepared for any treatment.”

Meanwhile, Laois and Armagh’s first round SFC qualifier will take place just 90 minutes after the kick-off for the Republic of Ireland’s second group game against Belgium at the Euro 2016 finals. The game in Portlaoise, with a throw-in time of 3.30pm, will be televised by RTÉ who will also be showing the match in Bordeaux.

It is one of three Round 1A games to be played on Saturday week. The losers of this Sunday’s Leinster quarter-final between Louth and Meath will have just six days to prepare for a trip to Owenbeg to face Derry that day. It has been hoped the split qualifier system would dramatically reduce such quick turnarounds for counties.

However, the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) have been unable to avoid it in this case. Carlow and Wicklow will also face each other on June 18 in Netwatch Cullen Park at 7pm. The following day, Waterford travel to Carrick-on-Shannon to face fellow Division 4 side Leitrim at 2pm.

On the weekend of June 25/26, on the 1B side of the draw, Limerick travel to Antrim. Down entertain Longford in Newry, the losers of Offaly and Westmeath play host to London and either Donegal or Fermanagh must make the long trip to face Wexford. 

Times and dates of those four games will be confirmed by the CCCC next week.


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