Saturday 16 December 2017

GAA steps up with guidance for communities in crisis

GAA is perfectly positioned to offer support, says Colin Regan
GAA is perfectly positioned to offer support, says Colin Regan

Damian Lawlor

The GAA received almost 40 requests from clubs and counties seeking support following critical incidents last year.

Colin Regan, the GAA's Community and Health Manager, told the Sunday Independent those requests varied in nature, but reflected the challenging times that arise in every community from time to time.

"The requests came seeking assistance after a death by suicide, a tragic accident causing serious injury or death, a life-threatening injury on the field of play/training, addiction, mental health issues, or an incident involving a member abroad," Regan said.

Earlier this year, aware of the growing need for assistance, the GAA's National Health and Wellbeing Committee helped facilitate a workshop involving eight clubs and counties affected by various critical incidents in recent years.

The plan is to have a committee in place in every county and to have one health officer at every club by the end of this year. The workshop included specialised help from the likes of former Galway hurler, Justin Campbell, who also helps the GPA in counselling issues.

"We have developed a close working relationship with the National Office for Suicide Prevention," Regan added. "The likes of Samaritans (the GAA's official mental health partner), Console, Aware and Pieta House have all been very helpful too.

"I've been humbled on countless occasions when I see the efforts gone to by club and county chairpersons or other officers in the aftermath of a tragedy. Or if a member is facing a challenge in their life.

"In most situations, they couldn't be more concerned were it one of their own children in harm's way. It's a side of the Association that goes largely unrecognised but, for me, it's what the GAA is really all about. Community, connections, and solid values."

Regan says that on many occasions over the past year, club and county officers have found themselves thrust into uncharted water. He adds that their ability to respond in certain situations will depend entirely on a club's capacity and their officers' experience. Their first concern is rightly 'to do the right thing'.

This encouraged the GAA to unveil a new response plan for deaths, suicides and other critical incidents to provide a "light" for communities in the aftermath of tragic events, like the death of murdered Garda detective Adrian Donohoe, for instance.

The document is a blueprint for dealing with unexpected situations ranging from deaths to instances of severe depression which may affect team members or people within the area.

With almost one million members in the GAA, 20 per cent of whom are outside of Ireland, the focus of the intiative is very much on the ordinary club member.

The case of Galway intercounty hurler Niall Donohue, who died in 2013, was also referenced at the midweek launch, as was the assertion that the GAA - with links to every parish in the country - was perfectly positioned to help in difficult situations.

"We hope this resource provides a roadmap in situations," Regan continued.

"We have great people helping us. The likes of Justin Campbell, Jennifer Hayes, Principal Psychologist with the HSE Cork north, also supported the January workshop, as did Dr Brendan Doody, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist.

"Experts have identified the support provided by GAA clubs/counties as being a preferred first response to critical incidents at community level - one that is appropriately delivered by the community and by persons who those affected know and trust deeply. There can be a tendency in some situations to seek to 'parachute' in professionals. This isn't always advised as it can heighten the situation. This is usually decided on a case by case basis," Regan added.

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