Guest Articles

The lifting of a mental weight can result in the strength and conditioning of the mind

 

By Colin Regan who is a former Leitrim inter-county footballer and now GAA’s Community & Health Manager

By Colin Regan who is a former Leitrim inter-county footballer and now GAA’s Community & Health Manager

 

I was speaking with some friends recently about a mate of mine they all know. They were incredibly surprised to hear he had worked through some issues with his mental health a few years ago.

Their comments were nothing unusual (he doesn’t seem like the kind of person that would suffer from that, for example) but they did reinforce to me just how unaccustomed most people are with mental health problems or the multitude of ways issues can manifest themselves.

I’m no expert in the field, but my work with the GAA over the past two and a half years has exposed me to a lot of research, writing, and experience on the subject. Mental health is a focus area I identified as being a priority for my section in the GAA – Community & Health – in 2014. As a result I’m working closely with lots of professionals who dedicate their lives to the provision of mental health education, prevention, and response to help us plan how the Association can best cater for the mental health needs of our members, their clubs, and the communities they serve. I’ve also worked first hand with some people who are working their way through a variety of issues relating to their mental health. It’s been a revelation for me and something I’m very happy to be a part of. I feel I can better empathise and relate to people who have something going on in their heads that prevents them from occasionally thinking, feeling, or behaving the way they would like to. Partly because the mystery and stigma has been removed for me but also partly because I know what it feels like, to some small degree.

 

Colin Regan says "Mental health is a focus area I identified as being a priority for my section in the GAA – Community & Health – in 2014" - Picture by Tom Heaney, nwpresspics.

Colin Regan says “Mental health is a focus area he has identified as being a priority for his section in the GAA – Community & Health – in 2014″ – Picture by Tom Heaney, nwpresspics.

 

When I dislocated my knee in an on-field collision in 2010 and was told I would never play football again I really struggled. Sport and exercise were always the way I blew off steam and now, when I needed a release valve the most, I was laid up and feeling pretty pathetic. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t dance. I couldn’t imagine my life without sport. And it hurt. It really hurt deep to my core. To add to my troubles I had recently broken up with someone very special to me, someone I thought I would spend the rest of my life with at one time (recent research in Northern Ireland has identified relationship break-up as a major cause of psychological problems for young men.) In a nutshell, my nutshell wasn’t in a good space.

The mental challenge of over-coming that physical injury and the situation I found myself in was the real test I faced. I’m more proud of how I handled that challenge than the fact that I defied the odds and got back playing again. It took resilience. It took mental fortitude. It took a hell of a lot of patience and dedication. But it also required me doing something I wasn’t very good at doing – I had to reach out and ask for help. Fortunately I have some great friends I could turn to. They chauffeured me here and there. They listened to my fears of never being able to run again. I also spoke to a sports psychologist about what was going on in my head. It was good to just talk. My head was just filled with too many thoughts, many of them negative. It was good to let them out. Was I depressed? No. But I recognised that I wasn’t thinking like myself and I knew I had to do something to address that. Early intervention is always better than trying to cure something down the road when it’s become fully blown or deeply rooted. Yet we men in particular tend to put off dealing with any issues we have, mental or physical.

 

In 2010 and was told I would never play football again and he really struggled - Picture by inpho.ie

In 2010 and was told I would never play football again and he really struggled – Picture by inpho.ie

 

Thanks to all that help and support, combined with a willingness on my behalf to face the numerous set-backs when they came with the degree of perspective and patience required to work through them – I managed to get back playing with my beloved Melvin Gaels just in time to make an appearance in the Leitrim County final in 2012, which we won. It took two long years to get back onto the pitch but it was worth the effort. My team mates’ victorious run that year afforded me something few ageing sports people get – an opportunity to retire from the game on a high and on your own terms. It was exactly 20 years since I had won my first adult title with Melvin Gaels, an Intermediate championship in 1992. It was the perfect bookend to a wonderful period of my life.

Choosing the right language when speaking about mental health can be a bit of a minefield. The subject has a massive cloud of stigma hanging over it. Even the term ‘mental health’ arouses negative connotations in most people’s minds. I prefer to think of it as mental fitness. Like your body, you need to keep your mind well tuned and exercised. You shouldn’t abuse it unduly, and most importantly, if it gets hurt or injured or starts working in a way you aren’t happy with, then you need to get it treated. Body and mind are very alike and closely connected; healthy body, healthy mind, and visa versa in my book.

 

Colin Regan states "Even the term ‘mental health’ arouses negative connotations in most people’s minds" - Picture by gaajustplay.wordpress.com

Colin Regan states “Even the term ‘mental health’ arouses negative connotations in most people’s minds” – Picture by gaajustplay.wordpress.com

 

By maintaining a constant rehabilitation programme for my knee I am able to keep as active as I want to be. I have returned to an old sporting love and am playing soccer with Coolock Village FC while I am also exploring the new love found in the highs of mountain and trail running. The skills I picked up from the sports psychologist I worked with – which afford me a greater depth of self-awareness and capacity for reflection – come with me on those long runs and I know they’ll come in handy again when life throws another curl ball my way; which it will. That’s the way of the world.

 

We would like to Thank Colin Regan sincerely for writing this guest article for “Lend An Ear Sport”.

Colin is a former Leitrim inter-county footballer whose career spanned from the mid nineties to 2010. A former journalist and editor who still pens a weekly column with the Leitrim Observer, he now works full time as the GAA’s Community & Health Manager, coordinating a variety of health and community focused projects, including those relating to mental health and wellbeing.