Gambling and addiction issues still a priority for the GPA
Last year 77 players made contact with the organisation’s personal counselling service
Dermot Earley: “It’s important for anyone in that situation to know there is help, have no fear, and most of all talk about it.”
Gambling and addiction issues remain one of the player welfare priorities for the Gaelic Players Association (GPA), although the numbers accessing their counselling service are down on the previous year.
Almost one year into his role as GPA chief executive, Dermot Earley has also seen a further shift away from issues such as meals and mileage to mental health; part of the challenge there, he says, is making players aware of the services provided, while also ensuring they access them if needed.
“Addiction issues are still the priority,” says Earley, “and we do still have a lot of issues around gambling in the GAA that we need to address. Including more education, because there is a culture there, often associated with younger players.
“Beyond that, we’re still coming across a range of issues, related to the sport, or their own life. The demands of juggling playing with study, or a career, brings its own pressures. Maybe lack of employer flexibility, fears about redundancy. Then throw in the sporting issues, such a poor performance, or injury, and I know an awful lot about how that can impact on you mentally.
“Also personal stress, financial stress, family and marital issues as well. And low self-esteem and depression. We do sometimes get caught up on fixtures and mileage and all that, but we’re there to look after all aspects of players, including mental health.”
Last year, 77 players made contact with the GPA’s personal counselling service, a part of their Health and Wellbeing Programme, set up in 2012; this compares with 95 in 2016.
“That’s just specifically for the 24/7 helpline,” says Earley, “which is available 365 days a year, in total confidence and to all 2,200 members, and former players too. Residential treatment if required as well. It’s a comprehensive support structure, but it starts with the player.
“And it doesn’t necessarily mean the issues are any less. Over 500 players have engaged in our personal coaching service and it comes up in that context as well.
“Also when transitioning from playing to non-playing, we have a player development programme to deal with that. There are a lot of other services we provide around education and life coaching and career planning, business planning and start-up, but mental health is one of the most important areas, and putting it up in front of the players, so that they know it’s there, or know anyone who might require.”
On Saturday, Earley is part of a First Fortnight panel discussion on some of the enduring stigmas surrounding sport and mental health: “That’s one of the things we’re still trying to change. There’s nothing manly about holding it in, and we always encourage people to talk, regardless of what it is.
“It’s important for anyone in that situation to know there is help, have no fear, and most of all talk about it. Anybody who has been through any of these situations will tell you the best thing they ever did was pick up the phone.”
For more see www.firstfortnight.ie