MUNSTER rugby player Keith Earls has lent his support to a suicide prevention volunteer group along the River Shannon in Limerick city, after revealing his own experience of losing a close family member to suicide.
The 26 year-old Munster and Ireland winger has spoken for the first time about how his own family experience of suicide prompted him to reach out and help a cause close to his heart.
“It was two o’clock in the morning when we flew back from a Heineken Cup game and I saw a few lads on the bridge patrolling, and we were quite interested in what they were up to,” he told the Limerick Leader in an exclusive interview about the Corbett Suicide Prevention Patrol.
The group, which as 29 volunteers, estimated that since their foundation two years ago they have intervened in about 80 cases where people were at risk of suicide.
The Moyross man said that the death of a relative by suicide some years ago and its devastating impact on his family led him to offer his support.
“A relative of mine died by suicide at 20 years of age, so it’s something that’s close to me and I know what families go through, having seen what my parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents went through.
“It’s devastating for the family, and it’s just to get the awareness out there that it’s not the right thing to do and you can get help,” he said.
The Munster star, who returned to the rugby pitch this week after being kept out by injuries for more than a month, was full of praise for the volunteer group which patrols the river three nights a week.
“It’s great, especially the way times are now, and especially with mental illness,” he explained.
“It’s a great cause and they’re saving a lot of lives and are real life heroes. It takes a lot of time to keep it going, so I’d encourage people or businesses to donate money, equipment or time to the group if they can.”
Retired Irish rugby player Alan Quinlan has also spoken openly about his battle with depression, and Keith too has urged those affected “not to be quiet about it and speak out”.
“You wouldn’t expect it out of Quinny. He’s a tough fella on the pitch, and he was happy when he was around the lads, but I suppose when you leave the rugby pitch and head out the gate from training no one knows what’s going on in your head.
“We’re in quite a good bubble in rugby, in professional sport, and sports stars earn good money, so you don’t really see what’s happening in the real world and the struggles people are going through,” he said.
Up to eight volunteers patrol the riverside in Limerick city on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night.
Volunteer Mike Mulholland said people from all walks of life are volunteering with the group, and highlighted that more volunteers than ever are needed as the evenings brighten.
Ironically, he said while it might be expected that brighter evenings would boost a person’s mood, the opposite is true, and said those feeling depressed prefer weather that mirrors their moods.
To volunteer call 087 9555 370.