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Mental health services cannot afford cuts, says Chris Kerr



Help required: Chris Kerr wants assistance for those struggling with mental health but fears cuts due to revenue lost amid virus

Help required: Chris Kerr wants assistance for those struggling with mental health but fears cuts due to revenue lost amid virus

�INPHO/Presseye/John McIlwaine

Help required: Chris Kerr wants assistance for those struggling with mental health but fears cuts due to revenue lost amid virus

With Gaelic Players' Association funding cuts sure to be on the way, former Antrim goalkeeper Chris Kerr is urging the relevant parties not to slash back the body's front-line services for mental health.

His county colleague, the former Antrim 1989 All-Ireland hurling final captain Ciaran Barr, recently took on the role of head of finance and operations with the players' representative group, and spelled out the harsh reality as they look to negotiate a new funding deal with the GAA.

"If the GAA does not generate any revenue this year then all of the units of the GAA, including the GPA, will be impacted by that. The GPA have already taken steps to reduce the cost base," Barr said.

"And we will continue to review our cost base, our plans for 2020, and we will tailor our cost base in the light of our revenue and our funding from the GAA. But we are pragmatic and we are realistic. We know that without the games there is no revenue for the GAA."

Kerr, who previously sought and gained help through the GPA, undergoing a course of cognitive behavioural therapy, believes that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will have a grave effect on the mental state of players.

"I would imagine the confidential line is being inundated at the minute," said the 33-year-old.

"For a lot of people, including myself at my worst after my dad had died and I was feeling bad, going to matches and training and gym sessions were an escape - I didn't have to think about anything for an hour.

"So a lot of people will be struggling, more than you might think."

As a means of keeping their membership connected, the GPA have been hosting a series of Webinars. On Tuesday night, Oisín McConville shared his experiences with gambling addiction.

Kerr believes that it was timely indeed.

"Gambling addiction is one of the biggest issues that people have come to me and said they were struggling badly with. It's so prevalent and accessible on your phone and laptops and so on," he said.

"The first time I ever heard Oisín talk, I said to myself, 'I am never gambling again'."

Even the supposedly positive effects of the 'new normal' are not suiting Kerr, who works for NIE and can't get used to working remotely.

"I myself put a big value on routine. I look forward to going to work, the structure of work, matches, gym stuff, whatever it may be," he said.

"I always had it in my head about how unreal it would be to work from home. Having done it, it is my idea of hell now. I like being around people.

"It doesn't matter what job you are in. I myself work for NIE, but the same applies to people going along and seeing people, bricklayers out on site, having the craic with their mates, talking to people.

"All of a sudden you are in a house, around a laptop or doing nothing. A lot of people have lost jobs or been furloughed, restrictions on how long you can go for exercise, how long you are allowed outside."

He continued: "It's a lot of change for people off the back of this. I know every day there is a daily report of deaths and numbers of people in ICU. It's terrible to hear all that.

"On the back of all this and when we come out the other side, which I hope is sooner rather than later, there needs to be a lot of things put into place for people for their mental health. People are losing jobs, they are panicking about how they are paying for their mortgage, for food.

"The things you take for granted on a daily basis, they are all gone. And you might see a spiral then. Whatever money people have, there is a danger they could turn to gambling to try to double or treble it to make ends meet. I think all of that needs to be looked at from the powers that be."

There is a slight irony in that lockdown has come at a good time for Kerr's football career. He ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in a league game against Creggan last year.

"I don't have to have a game in my head and think, 'Yeah, I have to get back for that one'. It's worked out well from a personal perspective with the injury," he said.

Belfast Telegraph