Just over a year ago the Irish FA Foundation recruited a team of 23 Mental Health Champions across Northern Ireland.
Their mission is to promote Ahead of the Game, the Foundation’s mental health programme for clubs which is funded by the UEFA Hat-trick programme.
Here, as part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2023, one of those volunteer champions, Gareth Loney, a member of Caledon Rovers in Co Tyrone, explains how he has been promoting mental health awareness in Tyrone and beyond.
Q: What work have you been doing as an MH Champion over the past year?
A: In developing the MH Champion role I have been increasing awareness of the importance of mental health throughout clubs within the Mid-Ulster area.
I have been stressing the importance of good mental health and the need to maintain wellness and seek support when required.
The role has required me to develop a knowledge base in order to be able to signpost clubs or individuals to appropriate supports for those in need.
I have attempted to increase the awareness of the MH champion role and the supports currently offered through the Irish FA.
I facilitated a blitz on World Mental Health Day, held sessions utilising mental wealth games and delivered awareness promoting the five steps of the wellbeing model.
The role of the MH champion has offered me the opportunity to further my knowledge through the completion of a mental health first aid course and offered beneficial networking opportunities with fellow MH champions throughout the past 12 months.
Q: Why did you become a Mental Health Champion?
A: It came from my desire to support those struggling with mental health issues.
As a mental health nurse for the past 15 years, and indeed being involved in sport from a very young age, I am aware of the positive contribution this role could have.
Given my experience I felt I could offer a skills set that would fit well within this role.
Q: Why is it important to recognise Mental Health Awareness Week?
For me it is important to recognise and be aware of our mental health on a daily basis, however initiatives such as Mental Health Awareness Week allow organisations like the Irish FA to increase awareness of mental health on a larger scale in an attempt to encourage people to reach out for help or support if needed.
Mental Health Awareness Week allows for stigma to be challenged in an attempt to increase public understanding of mental health, provides information on how people can manage their mental health and indeed highlights preventative measures to support self and others.
Q: What would you recommend for anyone struggling with their mental health?
A: If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health I would encourage you/them to seek assistance.
Depending on the issue I would encourage people to utilise resources online and to develop self-help techniques to improve practical skills in the management of overall wellbeing.
I would also very much encourage individuals to use community-based supports and initiatives within their area or get involved with local recovery colleagues.
Having recently been involved in an Ahead of the Game session I would encourage all clubs to get this booked in for coaches, volunteers and senior players as it was an informative evening that was aimed at increasing awareness of mental health and looked at possible signs and symptoms.
If the need is greater, or if a person is in crisis, my advice would be to seek support from a GP practice, an Accident and Emergency unit or alternative out of hours services as they can make onward referral to specialist services as well as using vital resources such as Lifeline or the Samaritans.