Northern Ireland

Belfast football mural tackles suicide awareness

SAMHI mural in north Belfast Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The mural is located in the Woodvale area of north Belfast

Talking about mental health can be a difficult subject, but a group of football clubs in north Belfast are hoping a new mural will help tackle the issue.

Fifteen clubs, mainly from the Greater Shankill area, are featured on the mural in Woodvale which is supported by a range of agencies.

They are all part of Suicide Awareness and Mental Health Initiative (SAMHI), a group set up following the deaths of a number of young men in north and west Belfast last year.

Clubs from both sections of the city have been working together on a cross-community basis, with football serving as the platform for people to express themselves.

A tool kit of resources is also being developed that will assist teams in getting players to open up about any mental health concerns.

Brian Kirker of 22nd Old Boys FC from the Shankill area, is one of the football clubs involved in the initiative.

He explained the background to the project which is supported by various agencies including Extern, Lifeline, Hope For Youth NI, Samaritans and Childline.

"When we set up SAMHI, it was on the back of three deaths in local football, two in the Greater Shankill area and one from the Falls area of west Belfast, all young footballers," he said.

"It affected everyone massively and there was a surge of opinion in the local area.

"The mural is in Woodvale and Woodvale FC is a club that has been affected, it is also situated in a very noticeable location.

'Powerful message'

"Stephen Paul from Lower Shankill FC, myself, Joe Donnelly from TAMHI (Tackling Awareness of Mental Health Issues) and Roberta Coates from Extern got together to set up Suicide Awareness and Mental Health Initiative.

"It was about doing something regarding the local teams coming together, featuring the various agencies.

"It would be great if one of the murals went up in all of the areas of Belfast - it could be boxing clubs, it could be gaelic football clubs, etc."

Joe Donnelly, a manager with TAMHI, said he had worked with the various football teams to pull together the application for funding for the mural from Belfast City Council.

"The mural is amazing, it is colourful and is sending a powerful message to the Greater Shankill," he said.

Image copyright Joe Donnelly/TAMHI
Image caption Joe Donnelly of TAMHI said he had helped the football clubs with a funding application for the mural

"Thirteen west Belfast clubs are looking to do something similar, it is inspiring communities to say we are in this issue together - a big sign of hope."

Mr Donnelly said a tool kit of resources to help the football clubs in north and west Belfast was "at an advanced stage of development".

Figures released in November of last year indicated a significant increase in the number of recorded deaths by suicide in north and west Belfast.

Mr Donnelly said it was a "massive issue" and that the "platform of sport is the ideal opportunity to break down stigma around the issue and engage with young men".

This theme is picked up on by Mr Kirker who said it was "nigh impossible to get men to talk about their feelings", but that football could help.

He said the clubs had already used keyrings and wristbands to get the message across and that the tool kit would provide additional support.

"We (the initiative) are trying to put together a toolkit that we can use on a regular basis, it will have examples of how people deal with mental health and the various agencies that can help," he added.

"I have family members who are managing mental illness, it is very personal.

"It is something I am happy to talk about now, but a couple of years ago I would not have been able to talk about it."

Image copyright Family of Daniel Morris
Image caption Daniel Morris was a former player with the Belfast Celtic club in Turf Lodge
Image copyright Micky Reilly
Image caption Paul McCullough helped establish the club and was a vice-chairman

Mr Kirker said that one of the clubs in west Belfast it had forged alliances with to promote the issue of "positive mental health" was Belfast Celtic Young Men, Ladies and Cubs from Turf Lodge in west Belfast.

The chairman of the Belfast Celtic club, Micky Reilly, said two members, former under 19 player Daniel Morris and vice-chairman Paul McCullough, had taken their lives.

"It still affects us to this day, we continue to think of them and promote suicide awareness," he said.

He welcomed the mural and the concept of the tool kit.

"We have given out leaflets door to door in the Upper Springfield area and other estates in west Belfast to raise awareness," he said.

"I think the tool kit is a brilliant idea.

"The thing is this affects everyone no matter what your religious background is."

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