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Coronavirus outbreak presents a huge mental challenge, says behavioural expert



Stay strong: Behavioural scientist Dr Ciaran Kearney (centre)

Stay strong: Behavioural scientist Dr Ciaran Kearney (centre)

Stay strong: Behavioural scientist Dr Ciaran Kearney

Stay strong: Behavioural scientist Dr Ciaran Kearney

Stay strong: Behavioural scientist Dr Ciaran Kearney (centre)

A leading behavioural scientist involved with the GAA has warned of the imminent dangers to mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Ciaran Kearney has worked with several teams in Gaelic football and hurling in building team culture. He was an integral member of the St Mary's management team that guided their side to the Sigerson Cup in 2017 and is currently attached to the Down county footballers.

He senses that players and coaches, already cocooned into a certain lifestyle based heavily around the routine of training and preparation, will find the new reality difficult.

This week, the GAA announced that the Connacht preliminary round clash between Galway and New York on May 3 had been postponed, with strong doubts that an All-Ireland Championship will even be staged.

"The last group session I was at was a week ago. We maintain contact, but in a different way. I can say without referring to any particular team, in the last couple of days people who have known me in my journey through sport over the years have been making contact," said Kearney.

"I would place a great value on the relationships I have with people I meet in sport. I think that underpins everything in life.

"A coach that was in contact with me has been experiencing a bit of anxiety, and a player as well. They are from two very different teams and environments I am practically not involved with any more.

"But I think it reflects the wider anxiety within society that is fuelled by uncertainty and legitimate concerns by inaction by government and the level of preparedness.

"I think maintaining contact, staying connected is crucial. I also think that some of the conversations I have had, I would like to think that those skills, those techniques become all the more important now."

With the country going into self-imposed isolation, Kearney believes the coming weeks and months have to be addressed as a mental challenge for us all to conquer.

In such confinement, he believes social media can be used as a positive experience.

"Sports people have a powerful role to play in this period. I see some of the leading sports people in Gaelic games now putting messages up. I watched TJ Reid (Kilkenny hurler) earlier putting up a clip of him doing a roll-lift with a toilet roll," he explained.

"So I think that's important, setting an example. I think there is an inevitable period of time where training changes, how people condition themselves in physical terms changes.

"But it is important to maintain some level of physical health and activity. I read stuff from a Buddhist who lives in France and he says, 'Even monks work up a sweat'. It's important that physical activity continues, even if it is in a different form."

He continued: "Your daily routine is very important for a sports person. It is for me. You need routine without monotony.

"Some of the literature drawn on isolated, confined and extreme environments, polar expeditions and so on, that can tell us more.

"There is a lot of talk about danger and threat at the minute, we need to push that back. We need urgency without a constant sense of emergency if I can put it that way.

"I would still frame it as a challenge, focus on what resources we have and what strengths the community has. That's vitally important at this stage."

In the midst of a crisis, the GAA have offered their help in numerous ways. Locally, clubs have offered to help the elderly in their community in fetching groceries and giving assistance.

Nationally, the grounds of Croke Park, Pairc Uí Chaoimh in Cork and Kilkenny's Nowlan Park have been offered to the HSE to act as testing centres.

"There have been warnings about this for a good period of time about what was ahead, and there will be a time when those who neglected the warnings may be asked to account for that. But now is probably not the time," added Kearney.

"We could fix the blame but we have little time to face the challenge and find a way forward and that for me is the focus. Can we zero in on what the critical issues are for people to learn and know and share that information in a way that is meaningful and practical?

"And that's what I did with the staff team I am with, with others in sport who I support and obviously with my family and the wider social circle.

"There are guidances out there, the World Health Organisation, the European Centre for Disease Control and others, like the HSE in the south.

"Maybe now, some of the public health advice in the north has brought to the fore the steps people can take."

Belfast Telegraph