Mental Health Awareness and Wellbeing- Walking, Talking and everything in between


Drogheda United's home which had been called Head in the Game Park for a couple of seasons to raise awareness Credit: Ben Whitley (ETPhotos)

Last weekend thousands of people took part in Darkness into Light walks organised by Pieta House- an annual event which takes place nationwide to raise awareness of the importance of community. Quotes such as ‘Individually we are a drop, together we are an ocean' continue to remind participants of the power of the presence of others who care. A number of League of Ireland clubs, including Sligo Rovers, St Patrick's Athletic, Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers have also linked in with Pieta House over the years in various guises including shirt sponsorship, coffee mornings and fundraising activities.

Speaking of the League of Ireland- a league which has seen some players recently step away from the game for a period due to mental health challenges- Head in the Game are shining a light on some of the services available to adults and young people in relation to mental health and have linked up with the PFAI . A recent social media posting concerned Jigsaw, who have also been a prominent feature on UCD jerseys in recent times while they continue to adorn captain's armbands throughout the country and have signage on soccer pitches throughout the Louth area and beyond. Dundalk FC partnered with Fyffes to launch the Harry Taaffe Mental Health and Wellbeing Programme last season and Derek Pepper delivered SafeTalk workshops which are linked to HSE programmes and more information is located here.

Similarly, a few years ago Derry City created a Wellbeing team to allow their players speak about their feelings and mental health topics while, in 2022, Shelbourne encouraged their supporters to 'Mind Yourself, Mind Your Mates, MInd Your Family' with their Mind Yourself campaign and linked in with St Patrick's Mental Health services. Comedian and Bohs fan PJ Gallagher spent time in the service a few years ago and has a programme coming out on RTE this week called ‘Changing My Mind’. Speaking in an interview with RTE about the documentary, he reiterates the importance of talking and telling someone about your feelings.

This is something former Shamrock Rovers and Drogheda United defender Graham Gartland has been passionate about in his Clear The Head YouTube videos where he walks and chats with current or former Shamrock Rovers players about their life journeys- even though it focuses on those who have spent time with the Hoops, fans of clubs across the league and beyond may find plenty to enjoy in each episode.

In the English Premier League, Wolves released a powerful video recently which has had close to 9 million views while English Championship outfit Norwich City had their own version a number of months ago and both are very much worth a few moments of your time.

For those who haven't watched the latter, it tells the story of two supporters who share the ups and downs of games sitting side by side before one turns up on his own to drape a scarf around the empty seat beside him. It's not clear what relationship they had but we can see the power of sport in helping to form their friendship.

In Scotland, Aberdeen FC launched an app for fans to provide support and advice on mental health in 2020 while Hearts, Hibs, Aberdeen and Rangers have received funding from the Scottish government to fund The Changing Room Programme for a fourth year. The programme involves motivational speakers, walking football, stadium tours etc to allow participants the opportunity to speak about their mental wellbeing.

Next weekend, as every weekend from February until October, thousands of League of Ireland fans will share terraces, teas, brollies, burgers, chips, chants and maybe even a pint or two together. Others are watching TVs, listening to commentary, scrolling through Twitter or even refreshing FAI Connect.

We all belong to the League of Ireland community, we share the magic of the so called Greatest League in the World. But how much do we share of ourselves? How much do we tell our buddy beside us in the stand? How often has your WhatsApp group had a message that reads, ‘Guys I’m finding things tough’? 

This Mental Health Awareness Month why not take the lead from England captain Millie Bright who, in an interview with BBC Sport last week, spoke about the importance of ‘kickstarting’ the conversation if you're struggling with your mental health and to allow friends, family and whatever support services are necessary to help ‘gather emotions, reset and think clearly’. 

Last week, too, saw former Derry City forward David McDaid kick off a ‘Man On’ Programme in Larne High School for 12 weeks starting on Wednesday 15th May which centres around the idea of building a community of men who, through the medium of football, will receive talks from different agencies who deal with issues affecting mental health. 

Staying in Northern Ireland, the IFA have also recognised the importance of talking and have developed a 23 strong team of Ahead of the Game Mental Health Champions. In 2022, the Women's National League teamed up with the HSE to #FlagYourFeelings as part of a programme where WNL players received extra training on key mental health topics.

Not everyone is going to be comfortable talking about their emotions, not everyone is having a tough time but for those who are, do reach out and have that conversation. Whether it's to your buddy, your WhatsApp group or whether it's someone working with the likes of,,, or Pieta House, have that chat. You, or they, won't regret it. To quote the aforementioned Head in the Game- Talk To Each Other, Listen To Each Other, Look After each Other.