GAA’s first mental health day to coincide with football semi-final

Messages on small steps people can take will appear in Croke Park during game

The GAA is to host its first ever mental health theme day which will coincide with the All-Ireland senior football championship semi-final on 28th August.

The association announced on Wednesday that it has partnered with the HSEand the Little Things campaign, which aims to inform members of the public of the small measures they can take to improve their mental health on a day-to-day basis, for the occasion.

Messages from the Little Things campaign will be placed around Croke Parkon a day when up to 80,000 fans are expected to be in attendance, and there will be editorials in the match day programme and pitch-side interviews devoted to the topic of mental health.

Speaking at the launch of the theme day, GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail said the promotion is intended to spread a message about positive mental health as broadly as possible in Irish society.

“The GAA is very much ingrained within society in Ireland, we’re in every single parish in the country so therefore if something is an issue for parishes it’s an issue for us and we like to try and address that,” he said.

Minister of State for Mental Health Helen McEntee added: “Every week on average 10 people die by suicide… What will happen on 28th August is a perfect example of how a partnership between the HSE and the GAA can open up the discussion around mental health in Ireland.”

The HSE Mental Health Division national director Anne O’Connor said that since its launch 18 months ago the website has had over one million visits, and there has been a spike in calls to Samaritans when Little Things television adverts have aired over consecutive days.

Cavan footballer Alan O’Mara is the subject of one of the Little Things adverts, and he talked about the significance of achieving a personal sense of balance amidst the highs and lows of intercounty competition.

“If Cavan was going well and I was playing well I was relatively happy, and if I wasn’t I was questioning things and struggling quite a lot.

“One of the things I really wanted to achieve was a sense of balance, that purpose, and that’s one of my major little things. It sounds like a little thing but it was a big thing for me,” said Mr O’Mara, who is also founder of the Real Talks communication workshop.

Also present at the launch was Galway footballer Gary Sice who said the theme day is an exciting development for the GAA, and Cork camogie playerAshling Thompson who recounted her own struggles with mental health difficulties.

“In my late teens or early 20s I started having issues with my mental health. In the beginning I wasn’t aware of it because I didn’t understand what it was,” said Ms Thompson, who found solace in opening up and talking to friends and family about the issues.

She added that little things she does to improve her mental wellbeing include eating healthy and talking about her feelings with those close to her.

Dr. Barbara Kearns Comment:

Most GAA clubs have developed a mental health awareness programme. The GAA as a body has taken a lead role in promoting awareness. IN my own Club Cuala a few members, myself included< got together to run a campaign and give talks to help reduce the stigma and fear of mental health disorders.