During half-time at the Leinster vs Ulster Guinness PRO12 match on New Year’s Eve last year, an announcement appeared on the big screen: “Please donate to Leinster Rugby’s official charity partner for the 2016-17 season, Aware, who do great work to help those suffering with depression”, or something to that accord. It was a pleasant surprise.
I’ve been a rugby fan from a young age, and have been going to Leinster matches alongside my father and brother since I could walk. I’ve played the game for the majority of my 21 years and now coach it at a junior level, and yet I had never heard a single utterance about mental health from a coach or a professional team. That is not to say that coaches didn’t care about young player’s mental health, but that it simply wasn’t on anyone’s radar.
Thankfully, it is becoming increasingly more common for people from all backgrounds to discuss their mental health more openly, and the stigma that was previously attached to discussing mental health issues is waning. A demographic that still struggles to vocalise their mental health struggles, however, is young men, particularly those aged from their mid-teens to their early 30s.
The leading cause of death for young men in Ireland aged between 15 to 34 is not road traffic collisions, or Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS), but suicide
The leading cause of death for young men in Ireland aged between 15 to 34 is not road traffic collisions, or Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS), but suicide. Ireland currently has the fourth highest rate of youth suicide in Europe. This is a terrifying statistic.
Indeed, some progress is being made to combat this. The establishment of a junior ministry for mental health by the current government is a welcome step. Last summer, I met with Helen McEntee, current Minister of State for Mental Health, and Simon Harris, Minister for Health, in Leinster House to discuss youth mental health proposals. McEntee’s passion and commitment to improving youth mental health was evident. With her father, former minister Shane McEntee, taking his own life in December, 2012, she is more aware than most of the devastating effects suicide can have on families and communities.
McEntee has set up a community-led national taskforce on youth mental health that will “consider how best to introduce and teach resilience, coping mechanisms, greater awareness to children and young people and how to access support services voluntarily at a young age”, according to a press release from the Department of Health. Some of its members include prominent mental health advocates such as musician and former Leinster Rugby player Niall “Bressie” Breslin, Dr Shari McDaid of the charity Mental Health Reform and the CEO of Cycle Against Suicide, Jim Breen.
The establishment of this taskforce, along with the support of the aforementioned prominent figures, will hopefully bring about some positive reforms that can be implemented by the government. Furthermore, the work that charities do – at both a national and local level – is vital in breaking the stigma that still remains within some strata of society regarding mental health and disseminating information about positive mental health and where to access help when necessary.
Traditionally, women speak more freely about their problems, including mental health issues, while men have a tendency to bottle them up, often exacerbating the issue
However, one of the main barriers that still exists for young men in openly discussing their mental health is a fear of judgement amongst their peers. Traditionally, women speak more freely about their problems, including mental health issues, while men have a tendency to bottle them up, often exacerbating the issue. Although it is definitely improving, a culture must be created whereby young men feel comfortable discussing whatever issues they may have. Furthermore, it is not just the responsibility of the government or charities to create such an environment. As young men, we also need to be central in encouraging such a mindset.
That is not to say that young men need to abandon their sense of identity and post soppy statuses on Facebook about how they feel, but a culture that encourages young men to be more open about discussing their mental health has the potential to reduce a suicide rate that is far too high and allow them to live healthier, happier lives.
With professional sports teams like Leinster openly supporting mental health charities, it appears that this culture is changing for the better. However, until these efforts are driven by young men themselves, many will remain sick and isolated, and the tragically high suicide rate amongst this demographic will unfortunately endure.