Roisin Howard, from Cahir, playing both Camogie and Ladies Football with Tipperary, and Masters student at Mary Immaculate College. Roisin joined us at the launch of the new WGPA/GPA Member Support Text Line to share her story of engaging with counselling supports:

I’ve always been a bubbly, care-free and considerate person. I thoroughly enjoyed the last few years of my life and felt particularly lucky to be playing with the successful Ashbourne and O’Connor Cup teams at UL. I also took some time out of sport to go travelling. I spent a semester in Seville in Spain studying abroad and a summer in New York playing Ladies Football with Na Fianna. I established many friendships both inside and outside of the sporting world – I love that balance and find it an extremely important part of my life. Playing both codes at a high level is something I am very passionate about, but having simple escapes from my life as an athlete has always been refreshing too.

In late 2019, I felt a complete change in my mindset due to struggles in my personal life. This continued until the end of May this year, when I began to reach out for help, after completing my final exams and having more time for reflection during lockdown. I could see the causes and appreciated the effect it was having on me as a person and my relationships. My mental health was suffering in my final year of college but I was always looking to the next college deadline or the next match, so I often pushed my feelings and emotions aside, deciding I didn’t have time to deal with them. I developed an unhealthy relationship with food and my sleeping pattern was erratic. I laid awake at night unable to sleep for weeks on end, so I eventually decided to begin starting my day when I awoke from the overwhelming anxiety at around 4am. I would fit in study sessions and exercise before crashing between 9-10am and going back to sleep for a few hours. It sounds crazy but it worked well for me at the time and allowed me to make the best use of my time in a bad situation.

My friends were very aware that I was struggling, but I was so consumed by other areas of my life that I avoided talking about it and brushed things off. The majority of the time, I found going to training and playing matches a great distraction and outlet, I usually felt better after physical activity and being surrounded by such a positive and ambitious group in the Tipperary Camogie team. At times my energy levels were low and I found it difficult to perform to the best of my ability, however, overall sport was a major positive in the midst of my struggles.

When the COVID-19 restrictions were enforced, I lost vital distractions like sport and meeting friends. My feelings of anxiety and distress became magnified. When the restrictions were slightly lifted, my mental and emotional state became really apparent: I felt out of place in a group, isolated and alone in the company of childhood friends who have known me forever. This triggered numerous panic attacks in public and finally prompted me to take action and address my difficulties.

I began by telling my housemates in college as I knew they could see what I was going through on a daily basis. I felt a sense of relief to listen to other people’s perspectives on situations that I struggled to deal with and this made me more comfortable communicating my struggles to those close to me. I came to realize that once I started to talk about it, life became that bit easier. I didn’t feel obliged to stay in social settings if I wasn’t feeling well, because I had confided in those around me and would receive support from them.

It was a UL football teammate that encouraged me to get in touch with the WGPA for counselling support. Despite the first few sessions being extremely difficult, in the months that followed, I knew I could feel myself re-establishing my social skills and remembering my true self-perception and confidence in integration.

In the past, availing of mental health services has often being perceived as a sign of weakness but it shows strength of character and self-awareness to acknowledge that you’re struggling mentally. By engaging with the counselling, I was provided with life-long tips and coping mechanisms for dealing with anxiety and stress in difficult situations. I began to track situations in my life, allowing me to connect with my feelings more. I now feel more emotionally aware and more content in my own company and life. I can make better choices in my life accordingly and have altered aspects of my life that were bringing about severe difficulty. I now realise it’s not good to constantly compare your own situation to others and I’ve learned it’s hugely important to respect your feelings, emotions and acknowledge those things in life that are bringing about negativity.

By providing these mental health services, the WGPA & GPA are displaying a recognition for the holistic needs of players. As inter-county players, we are programmed to perform at the highest level and it can be hard to keep all aspects of our lives moving in a positive direction. Both immediate and long-term services are now in place, therefore, I would strongly encourage players to reach out and avail of the services when they need help.

A new free wellbeing support text service offered by the Womens’ Gaelic Players Association (WGPA) and Gaelic Players Association (GPA) has been launched to provide another pathway for inter-county players who are in need of emergency support to reach out for help.

Text WGPA or GPA to 50808 in Republic of Ireland
Text WGPA or GPA to 85258 in Northern Ireland

Players in the Republic of Ireland can text WGPA or GPA to 50808 while players in the six counties should text WGPA or GPA to 85258 to receive support from experienced, trained volunteers in the area of mental health.