Surge in calls by GAA players to counselling line

The Gaelic Players Association (GPA) are encouraged by the news that the number of county players using their confidential counselling service has trebled this year.

Responding to the GAA’s official players body’s annual review of their mental health programme, head of communications Sean Potts acknowledged the rise is significant and serious.

However, he believes the figures — including 33 players presenting with depression issues and 22 gambling addiction, which represents half the cases in the service this year — indicate awareness of such issues has increased among the GPA membership.

“There’s uncertainty about what people should do in these situations so I think it’s a positive that they are reaching out and are encouraged to reach out,” said Potts.

“They don’t always deal with the pressures they’re under and they stay quiet. Experts will tell you conversation and understanding the signs of depression or personal difficulties even in one’s own company are vitally important.

“Our campaign next year will primarily be internal and focused on our own membership. Niall Donohue’s death sent shock waves across the country. People are now engaging and we’re redoubling our efforts, which is the only proper response to make sure people are aware of their own vulnerabilities and those of others.”

Potts revealed the GPA are likely to increase the number of counsellors as part of the service they provide. The number stands at 10 having increased from eight.

By the end of October this year, 94 players had engaged with the programme — a massive 203% growth in the number who sought assistance last year. Three players have also received residential treatment care for addiction issues.

And yet because of the confidential nature of the service, the GPA acknowledge some cases may be under-reported. “Our goal is to uphold the integrity of the programme so in a small number of cases assistance will be provided but not reported on,” their statement read yesterday.

Potts said part of their 2014 campaign will be aimed at preventing players from falling into the pitfalls of mental health difficulties.

“It’s the whole idea of preventing anything from spinning out of control. The signs aren’t always there in the dressing room. Players are subjected to a lot of scrutiny and analysis.

“We want to raise awareness about depression and the emotional distress some may experience before they feel they have no other option but to do something drastic.”

Potts revealed the GPA will shortly publish a booklet aimed at underlining the dangers around gambling, which was recently brought to focus with the situation of Tyrone footballer Cathal McCarron.

“Offaly footballer Niall McNamee has been wonderful in highlighting his story,” remarked Potts. “Gambling is a serious problem, especially the ease of accessibility to it.

“The insidious nature of that is particularly dangerous when people who are suspect to addiction are so readily exposed to it.

“We’re beginning to realise just how big an issue it is. In other sports organisations, we’re hearing of match-fixing allegations and they are looking at a possible correlation between the addiction and that.”

GPA chief executive Dessie Farrell stated the organisation will intensify their commitment to tackling the whole area of depression, and Potts said they want to guarantee all mediums of contact are open for players.

“We want to educate our own members more and more about mental health. A lot of people don’t want to intervene in someone’s life but that intervention could save a life. We’ll be emphasising that in our mental health booklet in the new year.”

The GPA also revealed their service has also provided support to a number of clubs in dealing with sudden and tragic death.


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