Dublin camogie player, Eve O'Brien, and Tipperary hurler, Patrick Maher, pictured at Croke Park.
Dublin camogie player, Eve O'Brien, and Tipperary hurler, Patrick Maher, pictured at Croke Park. 

Samaritans and GAA celebrate five years as mental health partners

Samaritans and the GAA are celebrating five years of teaming up together to tackle the stigma of mental health and urging young players and members who are struggling to cope to seek help.

The organisations are marking World Suicide Prevention Day by committing to continue their winning partnership to reach men and women across the island of Ireland.

A series of videos will be launched on GAA.ie and across the GAA’s social media channels highlighting the importance of good mental and physical health and of asking for help.

At grass roots level, Samaritans volunteers will continue to liaise with the GAA’s 32 County Health & Wellbeing Committees and Healthy Club Officers to raise awareness of its services and encourage anyone going through a difficult time to access the support available.

Tipperary hurler Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher added his voice to the partnership, saying: “Through hurling we learn the importance of communicating with those around us. We also learn that setbacks are part of life, some of which we can overcome ourselves, some of which we need support to bounce back from. The GAA’s partnership with Samaritans offers everyone access to a friendly ear in times of need and an additional support team to turn to off the field of play.”

Dublin camogie player Eve O'Brien is also a volunteer with Samaritans and supports the partnership between the two organisations. “As a team player and a volunteer with Samaritans I have learnt that listening and communicating with others are powerful tools. It’s fantastic to be able to visit clubs across the country and urge members to reach out at times when they may be going through a hard time,” she said.

Niall Mulligan, Executive Director for Samaritans Ireland, said: “Samaritans partnership with the GAA is one of the most important projects we have. With the support of the entire organisation, we have been able to reach men and women across the island of Ireland to spread the message that help is there if needed. The relationships between GAA clubs and our branches ensure the message of ‘Talk to Us’ is highlighted in the community and encourages people to talk about what affects them.”

GAA President John Horan said: “The GAA and Samaritans are both volunteer organisations that seek to support communities across the 32 counties of Ireland. We are grateful that our members can access their support services but also for the training and support they offer to our health and wellbeing structures at club and county level.”

The aim of the partnership supports those most at risk under four key priority areas:

·        To create an understanding of emotional health and its impact on wellbeing of people;

·       To raise awareness within GAA clubs of the importance of emotional support and where it can be found including connecting with Samaritans via freephone, text, email and face to face; 

·        To encourage people to develop active listening skills;

·        To provide practical support to help clubs and communities recover from an attempted or suspected suicide;

Samaritans offers centralised training workshops on active listening skills to GAA coaches and managers on request and offers awareness talks at club level to GAA members. These activities are co-ordinated by Samaritans Liaison Volunteers with GAA County Health & Wellbeing Committees across the island of Ireland.

Plans are also underway for Samaritans volunteers to visit clubs across the country for a ‘Huddle’, a post training talk emphasising the importance of mental and physical fitness to players and their management team.

Over the last five years, the GAA distributed almost 12,000 Samaritans posters to every club in the country, with tens of thousands of wristbands, pens and cards handed out at Provisional Football Finals and county matches.

Every Samaritans branch on the island has appointed a GAA liaison representative to engage with local GAA clubs, the charity has presented at GAA Healthy Club Conferences in Croke Park and Belfast, and Ulster GAA, in conjunction with the Public Health Agency (PHA), has also produced pitch side signs including Samaritans helpline as a source of support for those in distress. 

Mr Mulligan urged anyone in need to reach out for support by contacting Samaritans 24 hour freephone helpline on 116 123, text 087 260 9090 (RoI only) or email jo@samaritans.ie in the Republic of Ireland or jo@samaritans.org from Northern Ireland.