Jerry Thompson's family backs fans' mental health page
The family of a young Belfast footballer who took his own life has praised a new mental health initiative launched by Irish League fans.
Carrick Rangers player Gerard 'Jerry' Thompson was 24 when he died suddenly last Tuesday.
Shortly afterwards, a group of Glentoran supporters who have struggled with their mental health started a new Twitter account, Irish League Mental Health Awareness, encouraging others to share their stories and seek help.
Mr Thompson's parents, Gerard Shields (41) and Leanne Thompson (39), and sister Chantelle Shields (21) thanked them for their support.
"There should be an award for raising awareness of mental health," his mother told this newspaper.
"Our son was happy. We just don't understand how this happened to him.
"Gerard loved football - that was his life. The football teams and supporters have been brilliant everywhere.
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"If they (players) just had somewhere to go to speak to people.
"Sometimes they go to the doctors and they don't even help them.
"Something needs to be done about the mental health (services) in this country."
Mrs Shields added that the lack of outward signs their son was struggling had been one of the hardest things to come to terms with.
"It's very hard to know that someone might do what Gerard did. It's just shocking," she said.
"I was with my son that morning and there was nothing wrong with him. Something just switched.
"I've been speaking to people that have been through things like this. They said you just ask yourself 'Why?' every day.
"We had his wee son (seven-month-old Thiago) with us last night. If it wasn't for him, we would be lost. He was his world."
Mr Shields said the pressures of sporting life away from the field needed more recognition. "I never realised what Jerry was going through. He put a front on to me and to everybody," he added.
"If you're a footballer, it's just a fact that there's gambling, there's girls and all those things.
"If you go to work every day, you're there for eight hours and you don't have any free time. If you're a football player, you can have too much time on your hands to do too many things."
During the recent BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards, a picture of Mr Shields' son was shared alongside images of other sporting figures who have passed away this year.
"The thing is that players don't realise they have all that support until it's too late," Mr Shields said.
"With the problems Jerry had, if he knew the support was there, he might have said 'There's a lot of people out there who would want to help me'."
Jerry's sister said the family were happy to back the Irish League Mental Health Awareness Twitter page.
"If it's going to help anyone, that's a good thing," she said.
"We'll try and help them in any way we can, so that other families aren't going through the same thing as us."
Last week Carrick Rangers announced that the left wing-back's number 21 shit, which he wore 10 times, had been retired.
Explaining the decision, club chairman Peter Clarke said: "The first thought behind retiring the number 21 shirt was as a mark of respect and a memory to Jerry, who touched everyone at the club."
The shirt will now have an added significance, and moving forward the club has promised to raise mental health awareness for all players.
"The shirt will fill a position inside the club and we want to use its presence to benefit others," Mr Clarke said.
"We now have an educational suite. When we are doing certain parts of our educational programmes with groups, it can help us get messages across."
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call Lifeline, the 24/7 freephone counselling helpline on 0808 808 8000