Sporting organisations throughout County Tyrone and further afield turned out to pledge their support for a mental health conference and gala dinner.
Coaches and members from local GAA clubs, Rugby teams, football and many others came together in the Glenavon House Hotel, Cookstown last Wednesday night (29th January) to promote positive mental health through sport, in association with the Department of Arts Culture and Leisure.
Speaking at the conference, Catherine McBennett, co-founder of the Niamh Louise Foundation said: “Early intervention is prevention, by training coaches in what to do should they spot the signs and what not to do they can then direct that person to their GP or other professional for help.”
The Niamh Louise Foundation also launched their ‘First Aid Kit for Mental Health’ at the conference, a specially designed booklet with some key information about mental health and the symptoms to look out for in someone who may be suffering from a mental health disorder.
Tyrone GAA star and Rock GFC footballer Ciaran Gourley was one of a range of guest speakers at the conference. Ciaran who works as a teacher at St Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon spoke about the need for sporting organisations to make strides to help people who are suffering in silence.
Reflecting on his own personal career as a Tyrone footballer, Ciaran spoke about how he felt personally when he knew his county career was over, due to reoccurring injuries.
He said: “Being told my footballing career was over due to a knee injury was a difficult blow. Playing for Tyrone was all I had known for fourteen years of my life, and now I wasn’t part of that. Even though I had made the decision it was going to be a massive void in my life and I wasn’t sure how to fill it. Looking back now it is safe to say that for the next four weeks I was in a low place, I felt depressed. I was probably more quiet than usual and I hid away my negative feelings.
“I decided then to challenge my energy into what I know best, and that was playing football and getting back to playing with my club, Playing for my club is something I always take great pride in and being back with my club mates gave me a great sense of purpose again that I had lost for that short period of time. I moved on from that period, however I do dread the day that I hang up my boots. Dealing with mental health issues is extremely difficult and there is no miracle cure, we have to make people more aware and provide support.”
Stephen McElhatton on behalf of Killymoon Rangers football club also spoke at the event.
Stephen explained how his club had chosen the Niamh Louise Foundation as their charity for the year because the club “want to help raise awareness and give something back to the local community.”
Stephen said: “The first reason we chose the Niamh Louise Foundation was because it was a local charity. The second reason was because it was personal to a lot of people within the club, whether that is playing members, committee members, or supporters, it hit home that some people knew of people who had suffered mental health illnesses and we wanted to help.
“We wanted to promote the charity and what they do so we decided to have the name printed on the back of our jersey’s. We travel all over Northern Ireland playing football and if just one person sees it and asks what is the Niamh Louise Foundation then we have done our job.”
Picture gallery is from the Gala Ball in aid of Suicide Awareness for PIPS and Aware Defeat Depression Charities held in the Greenvale Hotel on Friday night.