A young student has launched a campaign with Highland shinty legends to break down mental health barriers – with one player speaking of how he has lost a staggering six team-mates to suicide.
Duncan Gorman, 20, originally from Newtonmore, has launched his Feet and Away video project as part of his studies towards a degree in journalism at Edinburgh Napier University.
The film has been produced with the help of shinty stalwarts Scott Campbell, Glen Tonkin, Graham Cormack, of the Camanachd Association, and Gary Innes who, over the course of his playing career, has lost six team-mates – half a shinty team – to suicide.
It is estimated that more than one in three people are affected by a mental health problem each year in Scotland, with suicide the number one killer of young people aged between 20 and 34 in the UK.
Rates are considerably higher in men, and statistics show only 27% of people who died by suicide between 2005 and 2015 had been in contact with mental health services in the year before they died.
Mr Gorman said: “I have experienced aspects of mental health in several different parts of my life, including in and around shinty.
“I always had an idea that I would do something like this as part of the project I have created, but it wasn’t until a recent incident with one of my best friends, who has directly been affected by suicide, that I really stopped dilly-dallying around it and I think that really spurred me on.
“My motivation was really that I don’t want this to happen to anyone else, so by producing the video I just felt I wanted to do as much as I can to spur people away from it and let people know that there are people who care for you.
“The whole ethos is to let people know that your club cares, your community cares, shinty cares.”
The video has been shared on social media since its launch at the weekend, with many praising its intention.
Mr Gorman added: “At times shinty can be seen as the out. A lot of guys work five days a week 9-5 labouring, which is hard work, and Saturday can be seen as the time to let their hair down and relax.
“But on the flip side, you can get frustrated if you miss a couple of balls or have a couple of bad tackles, and at times you can feel worse than when you went on the park.
“But by talking about any issues hopefully we can de-stigmatise and break barriers down and normalise that it is okay to not be okay.”
In a poignant nod to his former team-mates, musician Gary Innes earlier this year released a song entitled Dream Fields, which bears the lyrics “here’s to you and here’s to me”, the last words spoken to Mr Innes from one of his absent teammates.
Mr Innes said: “It’s a heartbreaking statistic for the club. Shinty is traditionally a sport that encourages quite a macho culture so feelings etc weren’t so easily talked about back when I first started.
“There was a few things put in place to try and encourage us all to talk about any struggles we were having but until people feel ready to open up and talk about how they feel, there is really not much more you can do and that’s the hard part.
“I hadn’t realised for years that this wasn’t normal. I was 17 when my first team-mate died and then it just kept happening. It wasn’t until I stopped playing shinty that I realised that so many young men taking their own life from one club wasn’t normal.
“Looking back now, a few of the boys we kind of knew were suffering at times but with the others, we had no idea, and I think that just shows how difficult it is to comprehend what is going on in people’s minds.”
TheFeet and Away project is named after a traditional shout heard each Saturday at shinty grounds across the country.