When it became clear how serious the COVID-19 pandemic would be in Ireland, Su Carty decided to offer her help on the front line.
The World Rugby Council and IRFU Committee member had worked as a psychiatric nurse before moving into sports administration in 2009, and so offered her help and expertise at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin during the country’s initial period of lockdown.
Only a month previously, in March, Carty had been named as a World Rugby Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship recipient for 2020. But she put her plans for the programme on hold in order to answer ‘Ireland’s Call’.
Between April and the end of July, Carty worked around the clock, splitting her time between the hospital and running her consulting and business coaching company from home.
Carty made herself available for four 12-hour shifts a week at St Vincent’s, working with patients who had been admitted for medical assistance, who also required psychiatric care.
“My career started as a psychiatric nurse, so I answered ‘Ireland's Call’, as they say,” she told World Rugby.
“I loved being back at the hospital, I really enjoyed being back in the middle of it. After 10 minutes of my first shift, it was like I'd never left.
“So, I looked after patients who needed medical or general care, but also had a psychiatric need. So, I was doing one-to-one with those patients.
“And, there was one patient who got COVID while I was there. So, I spent a chunk of time in the COVID-19 ward.”
Making a difference
Carty’s experience at St Vincent’s reawakened a desire within to “make more of a difference” within the mental health and psychiatry space.
She has since moved back to her family home in Roscommon, where alongside a group of colleagues, she is helping to launch an online training platform designed to aid suicide prevention. Ohana ZERO suicide training, which is set to go live soon, takes approximately 20 minutes to complete and focuses on breaking stigma and encouraging open conversations.
“What people would normally do that would have their mental health and their emotional health taken care of,” Carty said, “that's been taken away [during the pandemic].
“You have to specifically put something in place, put a routine in place or make a promise to yourself, going, ‘Right, I'm going to go for a walk every morning or every evening’.
“While your training’s at six o'clock on a Tuesday, that just takes care of it for you. [But] with all that's happening around COVID and all of that, it requires you to put something in place or it doesn't happen.
“And then, in the background of being maybe isolated or more on your own and not not having the interaction, it calls upon us to be a bit creative around what we do and what we put in place.”
She added: “It's up to all of us to equip ourselves to be able to check in on each other and not leave it to the person who's already struggling to have to say it. That we, maybe, in some way make it easier for them.”
Carty is confident that once community rugby is back up and running, in a safe environment, the game can again have a “massive” impact on people’s mental health.
“The thing for rugby, or sports in general, is it gives you that outlet, it gives you the connection,” she said.
“In making rugby available to the majority of people, you are by the fact of making it available, making a difference for the mental health of people within communities everywhere.”
Passing on knowledge
As part of her scholarship, Carty is scheduled to begin the Chartered Director Programme with the Institute of Directors, in January.
Her involvement with the scholarship this year has been limited to the online workshops organised by World Rugby and conversations with fellow recipients over WhatsApp.
Those interactions have fostered a sense of community among the recipients, some of whom have been inspired by Carty’s achievements in the game.
Having enjoyed a 12-year playing career in Ireland, Carty was the last President of the Ireland Women’s Rugby Football Union, became the first Women’s Development Manager at World Rugby in 2009 and currently sits on the World Rugby Council.
She is also a match official, worked as an assistant referee in women’s tests between 2014-16 and mentored Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship recipient, María Fernanda Vázquez Villatoro in 2019.
Carty balks at the suggestion that she is a pioneer for women in rugby, saying: “I think it's a little bit early to give myself a player of the match award.” But, she is only too happy to pass on her knowledge and experience.
“To be honest, you're a mentor without being an assigned mentor so much of the time,” Carty said.
“When you take on positions like this, whether it's formalised or not, that's part of what you agree to, even if you're not formally asked. And I think it's great to just make that difference.
“So, yeah, given the experience and stuff that I've had, I love to be able to share that and make that difference for others and continue to do that.
“And, equally, there's people within that whole scholarship group that have been involved at different levels, different arenas that have something to offer that I'm learning from as well. And that's how the game goes, right?
“Regardless of what you've done or not done, there's still lots to learn and lots to share. It's great.”