Dundalk lost 2-1 to Bohemians at Dalymount Park last Friday but recovered from the defeat with a 1-0 win over Waterford on Tuesday in the FAI Cup. In the immediate scheme of things the loss to Bohs was a setback to their hopes of winning the league. On another level though it was just a game of football that didn’t go their way. A more significant loss the club has suffered recently – that of their much-loved groundsman and videographer Harry Taaffe – must be still very raw.
Harry was lost to us just as the SSE Airtricity League was about to resume.
I’m removed enough from the situation to not know what had caused Harry to lose hope, but I do know that he had taken the brave step of seeking help.
I’m not here to criticise the mental health services in this country. As a sufferer of depressive illness myself, I have always been grateful for and appreciative of the care I have received from my GP and any counselling I have engaged with.
I do know that medication for depression and the various things it pulls into the mental mix – anxiety, stress, panic attacks, thought process disorder, excessive worry and various others – is not enough in itself. Even where it is it takes weeks if not months to kick in. The first medication you are prescribed may not be the right one for you, or even if it is it may not be the appropriate dosage. Counselling and other help tools need to accompany medication.
Looking back we know now that Harry should have been classed as a higher risk and admitted for care. The benefit of hindsight though is no use when it comes to bringing back someone who felt so low that they had entered the departure lounge in their own mind and taken that final, lonely and painful one-way journey through its door.
The tributes to Harry paint a wonderful picture of a man who loved his club and everything about it. He would do anything for the club, its players, fans and people. All League of Ireland clubs have people like Harry. Brian Murray comes to mind at Bray Wanderers, a club stalwart who was also a firefighter and sadly died [along with his colleague Mark O’Shaughnessy] when bravely tackling a blaze in Bray in 2007.
When a loss like Harry’s – or Brian’s – happens, the whole club community feels it. A part of the club has died. It’s a deep wound and it takes a long time to heal.
2020 has been a brutal year thanks to COVID-19. For many people it has been the worst year in their living memory. Personal, professional and family challenges have been forced upon us that we never thought we would have to face. For some people many of these strands of problems have overlapped and dovetailed in a way that has been overwhelming.
When the dust settles on COVID-19, whether it is through a vaccine, antibody testing or herd immunity, we will see a surge in mental health issues. Are we equipped to deal with them? Harry’s case would suggest the answer is no. If we are to learn anything from Harry’s passing then we need to petition for the provision of the volume of service in the mental health area that will be required. Forget how much it will cost – think about the awful cost to families, business, industry and society of people being lost to suicide.
In the meantime we can look out for each other. If it is somebody in your club, your neighbourhood or your workplace that you are concerned for, don’t be afraid to reach out. If you are correct and they are struggling then you have done the right thing. If they are fine then you have also done the right thing by verifying that.
There are some excellent services there that can be reached out to. The Samaritans. Pieta House. Aware. SOSAD. Don’t be afraid to engage with them if you are in a dark place and feel you have nobody or nowhere else to turn.
Stay safe. Stay strong. Take care of each other.