IT’S a sobering reality that there are few GAA clubs that have not been touched, in some way, by suicide.
With this scourge in mind, the GAA and the Samaritans have launched a partnership, which aims to reduce the stigma around the issue of mental health and to encourage help-seeking behaviour.
In its next phase, clubs are being encouraged to get in touch with Clare Samaritans liaison volunteers, who can arrange awareness talks for their members.
The Samaritans exists to offer confidential, emotional support to people who are experiencing feelings of distress and despair, including feelings that may lead to suicide.
This is done, primarily, by providing those who are having trouble with a safe place to talk. To achieve this, the charity operates a helpline, which is available 24/7, at a free-to-caller number 116 123. They may be contacted by email at email@example.com, or people can also call to the centre on the Kilrush Road in Ennis, between the hours of 11am and 10pm.
The Samaritans is not a religious or political organisation and people from all backgrounds get in touch. A core value of the organisation is that there are no judgements made on callers; whoever they are, however they feel and whatever course their life has taken, they are all welcome to make contact and will not be judged. Also, contacts with the Samaritans are confidential and do not go beyond the organisation.
While the Samaritans are often associated with suicide and its vision is for a society in which fewer people die by suicide, those who are not having suicidal feelings but would like to talk about how they are feeling are very welcome to get in touch.
People contact the Samaritans to talk about a wide range of issues including, but not limited to, depression, relationship and family issues, loneliness, physical and mental health issues, alcohol and drug issues, self-harm, illness and financial pressures. In recent years, financial pressures and the impact of austerity on relationships and families have been recurring issues.
The number of calls the Samaritans receive is huge. In the 12-month period from the start of November 2012 to the end of October 2013, Samaritans Ireland recorded 245,510 dialogue contacts. December 18, exactly a week before Christmas, was the busiest day of all, with 820 calls, an average of 34 an hour.
Suicide has long been associated with young men but, in recent years, it has been increasingly prevalent among men in middle age and it is hoped that the partnership with the GAA will help to make those having difficulties more aware of what the charity offers and how to make contact with it.
Since the start of the Samaritans/GAA partnership, every Samaritans branch on the island of Ireland has appointed a GAA liaison representative to engage with clubs in their local area. Also, the GAA has distributed almost 12,000 posters to every club, advertising the Samaritans’ number and its message.
During the summer, Samaritans volunteers attended the Leinster and Ulster football finals and the Cork-Tipperary game in Croke Park, where they distributed merchandise with contact details to tens of thousands of people.
While Clare didn’t make it to Croke Park in the championship, over 160,000 people saw the Samaritans’ message on the big screen at matches there. The GAA further assisted by publishing articles on the Samaritans in some of the championship match-day programmes and it made a €20,000 donation to Samaritans Ireland, which it named as one of its official charities for 2014.
Both the GAA and the Samaritans see their partnership as something that can grow and develop over time and any club that would like to arrange a Samaritans awareness talk can do so by contacting Enda Sheehy on 087 7669521, or Owen Ryan on 086 3269317.
By Peter O’Connell