Mind Matters for St Oliver Plunketts Eoghan Ruadh
By John Harrington
Back by popular demand, the St Oliver Plunketts Eoghan Ruadh GAA club in Dublin will host its second ‘Mind Matters’ mental health talk at their clubhouse tomorrow, Thursday October 4.
The speakers will be Olympic boxing silver medallist, Kenneth Egan, Irish rugby player and former Dublin footballer Hannah Tyrrell, and Professor Jim Lucey, MD of St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services and TCD Clinical Professor of Psychiatry.
The first Mind Matters mental health talk took place almost two years ago when former rugby player Brent Pope, former Armagh footballer Oisin McConville, and Cavan footballer Alan O’Mara spoke about their own mental health challenges.
The night was Plunketts’ first major Healthy Clubs initiative, and since then they’ve gone from strength to strength in that space.
“The first Mind Matters was absolutely fantastic,” said Trish Maher, St. Oliver Plunketts Eoghan Ruadh’s Health Club officer.
“There were about 200 people in the hall, and there was utter silence.
“People were totally gripped by the stories that were told and since then people have been saying, 'when are ye going to do another night? We need to do more of this sort of thing'.
“I think it had the impact it did because up to that the people that attended and in the club might have had an awareness of mental health and mental illnesses, but it was not spoken about.
“That is a fact. Whenever they did speak about mental health problems they spoke about it as something that happens to other people. Something that never happens to me, kind of a thing.
“What Alan O'Mara, a regular guy, had to say really hit home to people that this is a reality that could happen to any one of us at any time.
“The other extreme was Brent Pope. A fairly well known and famous person, to hear his story and the struggles he had I think people really got the message that mental illness isn't selective. It can hit anyone.”
This year, the Plunketts Healthy Clubs team ran a hugely successful Operation Transformation that saw over 100 people from the ages of 14 to 80 exercise twice a week in the hall and go for walks together on two other nights.
A couch to 5k initiative was also such a big hit that a second couch to 5k quickly followed on its heels.
It became clear after club members were asked for their suggestions that their next significant project would have to be another Mind Matters.
“Since we started that we've done two surveys in the club,” said Maher. “We've got about 150 respondents. The first question we asked was a broad question.
“It was worded something like what you would like to see the club focus on more? Or what would you like to see more of happening in the club?
“We actually couldn't believe it when we looked the answers to them. People put in various things, but the top answer, 80 per cent of the respondents had their top answer as more focus on mental health. We were astounded by that.
“I suppose in a way that speaks volumes that we're still not doing enough about it. That we're not talking enough about it and that the stigma is still there.
“That's really why we decided that we'll do this night again.”
Maher herself has worked in the mental health sphere for the past 30 years, first as a mental health nurse and now as a cognitive behavioural therapist.
So she knows better than most just how beneficial nights like tomorrow’s Mind Matters 2 can be for people.
“Mental health problems are absolutely rampant,” said Maher. “My vision would be that I would love to see talking about them exactly the same as they talk about chest infections and broken legs and diabetes and this kind of thing.
“I think one of the things...when we were talking to people about having this night I was asking people to tell me the first thing that came to their mind when they thought of mental health.
“Invariably the answers were depression, anxiety, tablets, loneliness, electric shock treatment, all of that kind of thing.
“Then I'd ask them to tell me the first few things that came to their mind when they think about physical health. And it was gym, fitness, nutrition, all of these.
“It was absolutely amazing to hear it. People automatically associate mental health with illness. And they associate physical health with keeping well.
“So, we still have a long way to go in helping people realise that every one of us has mental health. We need to de-stigmatise it and let people know that mental health isn't all about mental illness.
“Every single one of us are going to have our mental health rattled at some stage or another. We mightn't go on to get an illness, but everyone of us will feel rattled.
“Excessively stressed out or anxious or down in the dumps or whatever. We all go through phases like that. The same way we get little bits of physical illness as well, like a cough or a cold, or a chest infection.”
GAA clubs were traditionally places you went to pursue physical fitness, but the success of Healthy Club projects around the country means GAA clubs are now also very proactive in improving the mental health of their communities.
One of the most positive aspects of this shift has been that it’s attracted people to GAA clubs who previously would have had no or little involvement in them.
Maher herself falls into this bracket. Previously her only involvement with Plunketts would have been to drop her son to and from matches and training.
Now she feels a much more integral part of her GAA club’s community, and hopes their Healthy Club projects will do the same for many others like her.
“It's in the process of transformation,” she said. “We're only up and running in the last year.
“We had an event earlier on in the year, Operation Transformation, we were astounded by the amount of people who had probably never before set foot in the club that got involved in that.
“I think we had about 160 participants in that, 99 of them were non-club people. They're still coming back to the club twice a week to do fitness classes. It's definitely bringing in more people from the wider community.
“Now, there's still a lot to go. There's still a lot of work to be done to try to help make people totally comfortable with walking into the club and getting involved in anything that's going on.
“But, definitely, we have started to break down that belief that you have to be what people might call 'a GAA head'.
“We’ve made our own Healthy Clubs team. Every one of us are what would have been previously considered outsiders. I think other people seeing outsiders coming in will give them confidence to come into the club and feel more welcome.
“What we're doing by having all of these events is trying to get people feel more welcome in the club.”
You can register for Mind Matters 2 here.