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Is mental health still a taboo subject in changing room

KANE CONNOR
(BELNALECK & FERMANAGH)

Is the subject of mental health still a taboo subject in GAA dressing rooms?
I think so. In a changing room full of lads, it goes back to that thing were too few are still prepared to talk about it. I suppose you’re part of a team, you’re focused and maybe that takes attention away from that area. It’s just a hard thing, for any young lad, to come out and express your true feelings. I’ll not lie, I’ve had a few lads come to me at different times. One of those took up physical activity, over two years ago now, and it’s really helped him. You just don’t know what’s going on in someone’s head or behind closed doors. Lads can be the life and soul of a dressing room but it’s often a mask. With the club, you’ve grown up with these lads, same schools, same age. But again, maybe lads in that position might think it’s even harder to approach their best mates with that kind of issue. It’s just such a hard thing for people to open up about and talk about.

Is there more the GAA/GPA can do to raise awareness or even give players more of an opportunity to ask for help?
It’s hard to call. It works both ways. At the end of the day you’re not going to be able to drag that kind of thing out of someone. It’s usually kept very well hidden. With the GPA, of course they do do their bit. Absolutely.
0But there is so much more everyone can do. I don’t know if we hold enough talks or seminars. I remember we got Oisin McConville in as part of a health weekend, to raise awareness on a variety of levels. We’d the schools in. So many of the teachers came up after and said that the children were going to benefit massively from hearing Oisin tell his story. That’s just one example. When you see someone of that stature standing up and telling his story, then it can only help give others confidence who might be struggling.
You simply have to talk about it. It’s easy for me to say that – fortunately I’ve never struggled like that. But I know people who have and it’s a very brave act. Those are the sorts of individuals we need visiting the clubs.

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What more can the players do to help themselves and each other?
I don’t know. It’s a difficult one. It’s so tough to answer. You mentioned clubs and that everyone has a health and well-being officer. I’ll not lie, I don’t even know who that individual is in my own club. And again, that could well be my own fault. Maybe I’m not paying enough attention. But I don’t see meetings or workshops being called. It has to be made as visible and as easy as possible, by that I mean for someone to be able to ask or seek help. It needs to have a very obvious or clear presence, that there is help and assistance there. Make it as comfortable or as accessible as we can. A few posters here and there aren’t enough.

The current situation with Covid-19, it’s probably posing some real difficulties, psychologically, for players at this moment.
Is that void palpable or is it a case of perspective?
Sport and physical activity plays a big role in keeping the mind occupied and healthy. Things aren’t so bad for me. It’s been different. It’s gone from one extreme to the other. Before, every second day it’d be either meeting up with the lads, training or playing games.
There is all that interaction, all this routine. And it’s completely stopped. You’ve to now train by yourself. It’s tough. And again, for anyone that might have been secretly struggling beforehand could well be finding this even more uncomfortable or lonelier. They are the ones we have to look out for.

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