Saturday 16 December 2017

When GAA stops in NY, mental health suffers

Gaelic footballers and hurlers in New York
Gaelic footballers and hurlers in New York "lose their sense of identity" and can suffer from depression during the off-season

Brian Byrne

Gaelic footballers and hurlers in New York "lose their sense of identity" and can suffer from depression during the off-season.

Games development officer with the New York GAA, Simon Gillespie, said the lives of many of its 3,000 members "often revolve around the GAA season", from April to October.

"During the off-season, a lot of our members suffer from depression. Some have family problems which can be exacerbated when the season stops. They briefly lose their sense of identity," he said.

"The GAA over here really defines people. The Irish often have co-workers who have never been to Ireland, and don't relate to them. But when they are attending meetings or playing games, it gives them a common purpose.

"When that is taken away from them, it's very, very hard for them to adapt to life outside of it. You'll often hear of people having to go to counselling."

Pieta House, which operates 10 suicide and self-harm crisis centres in Ireland, has received €72,000 from the Department of Foreign Affairs' Emigrant Support Programme to launch the Pieta Room, which will be hosted at the New York Irish Centre in Long Island City from September.

The service is a collaboration with the Irish Consulate in New York, the Aisling Irish Centre in Yonkers, and Emerald Isle Immigration Centre in Queens and the Bronx.

Consul general Barbara Jones said the service was developed after realising that further support was needed in the area of mental health.

"Professionals with issues in New York can probably access healthcare services. We're making sure that people who don't have their health cover can go to a trusting space, free of charge," she said.

New York director of Pieta House Caroline O'Connell said: "All of the clinical staff will be paid, and there will be administrative staff that will need to be trained in the Pieta way, so that when anybody calls in crisis, they know how to handle that person. But pretty much everything else right now is volunteer-based."

The charity will host three Darkness into Light events for the first time on May 9, in New York, Chicago and Washington DC. Similar events are planned in Australia, Canada, China and the UK.

Sunday Independent

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