It is seen as a sport for the hardy and healthy, yet the outward displays of physical strength on a shinty field can mask fragilities lying beneath the surface.
The loss of six shinty players to suicide is now being highlighted as part of efforts to reach out and encourage greater support and awareness of mental health issues.
Gary Innes, the former Scotland international shinty captain and well-known musician, has explored the issue of male suicide as part of a two-part radio documentary being broadcast this week.
Over the course of two decades playing shinty Innes saw six of his Fort William team-mates take their own life.
In making the radio programme, ‘Six Men’, he spoke to family and friends of the players – discussing the void they left behind, and the pride in the contributions they had made to both their sport and community during their short lives.
The experience of young men suffering inner struggles, but hiding them from view, is one reflected in the examples of the Fort William team members, and sadly familiar to many other similar communities in rural Scotland.
“I think the last of the six men – he was one I knew so well, and his death hit me the most,” Gary told the Free Press.
“He was a real family man. He had a good job, was well liked, was a brilliant all-round sportsman – he had never shown any indication of any struggles or problems.
“His death made me think – if that can happen to him, then there is no one who isn’t vulnerable to this.
He added: “Talking to some of the families and friends about their loved ones who are no longer with us was incredibly difficult but the openness and the honesty with which they all spoke was just incredible.
“I would like to say thank you so much to them all again for being involved. Their courage and strength to talk about what were the darkest days of their lives will hopefully help others, either who are struggling or who have loved ones that they think might need support.
“I hope the documentary will help highlight the hard work done locally in Lochaber and the surrounding areas to help anyone who is struggling with their mental health, feeling low or having suicidal thoughts.”
In the series, Innes speaks to medical experts to discuss trends and some of the signs which people can watch for, and hears about some of the positive projects that have been set up to help.
There are contributions from Shetland which – driven by a campaign of local action – has gone from being the Scottish region with the highest suicide rate, to the lowest.
Shinty’s governing body, the Camanachd Association, has also made efforts to highlight awareness and openness of mental health issues – including through health and wellbeing advisers and a chaplaincy programme to provide counsel and advice to players.
Six Men will air on Wednesday and Thursday (9/10 Sept) on BBC Radio Scotland to tie in with World Suicide Awareness day on 10th September.
The programme will also be available online at BBC Sounds.
For those seeking help the following organisations can be contacted:
Scottish Association for Mental Health – https://www.samh.org.uk/
Breathing Space – https://breathingspace.scot/
Samaritans – https://www.samaritans.org/
You can read more on this story in this week’s Free Press, out on Thursday. Article by Keith MacKenzie