FORMER Scotland international shinty captain Gary Innes lost six of his teammates to suicide during his time playing for Fort William shinty club.

The Mànran singer and accordionist – who retired from the sport in 2014 – played music at some of their funerals, at others he carried the coffin. "Every death hit us hard," he told The Sunday National.

“Unfortunately, [suicide] is still something that's fairly prevalent in the sport," Innes said, referring to the death of an Inverness man and former shinty player in May.

Another shinty player from Lochaber also died of suicide earlier this year. 

The suicide rate in Scotland is higher on average than the rest of the UK, with 753 probable suicides in 2021, 565 of whom were men. This is particularly the case in the most secluded areas of the country – including the Highlands and Western Isles – where shinty is typically played and access to mental health professionals can be limited.

The Highland region is second top highest area for probable suicides in terms of both council area and health board, with 49 suspected suicides in 2021.

Shinty’s ruling body, the Camanachd Association, is trying to tackle the issue head on.

The National:

They’ve introduced a variety of different initiatives and entered partnerships with mental health charities, including the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) and Mikeysline.

Derek Keir, CEO of the Camanachd Association, said: “Within the communities that we serve, there are challenges – as there are in any community in Scotland.

“Our sport reaches into rural communities and we felt there was an opportunity as a governing body to use that connectedness to local communities to grow their awareness and understanding about how they can help and be more mentally healthy.”

They’ve also introduced a sports chaplaincy programme, where a local reverend undergoes Mental Health First Aid training, a program that trains them how to respond to people struggling with mental health issues before referring to professional help. They are also meant to serve as an independent and confidential counsellor attached to the club.

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Initially a pilot program at Kyles Athletic in Argyll, the program has now expanded to 12 clubs across Scotland.

Keir said: “The chaplain can be that someone that they can lean on and might offer a degree of support without necessarily connecting back to the selection of a team on a Saturday.”

He added: “Obviously there is professional support through the NHS, but that's not always on your doorstep in rural communities."

“There is a huge problem”, said Shonda MacNab, a health and wellbeing coordinator for Highland mental health charity Lochaber Hope.

She added: “One of the big challenges for mental health in Highland communities is a lack of services.”

The National:

The Scottish Government introduced a target in December 2014 for a medical practitioner to see 90% of people within 18 weeks of their referral for both adult psychological therapies and the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).

For NHS Highland, that figure sits at 83.6% as of March this year, with 10.9% waiting more than 53 weeks for a referral. 

Innes agrees that growing up in a rural area can be a barrier to seeking help. He said: “It brings with it lots of incredible opportunities and surroundings but when you are needing help, you're needing to speak to someone, the resources aren’t always there or as quick as everyone would like them to be.

“I think that's where the Camanachd Association is realising that having chaplains working closely with the club and understanding the players and their needs is a great thing, it’s certainly hopefully going to help."

He added: "It just can’t continue like this, something needs to change.”

When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at, or visit to find your nearest branch.

Mental health help can also be sought by contacting a GP, NHS24 on 111, or Breathing Space on 0800 83 58 87.

Lochaber Hope provide remote services, as well as counselling, mentoring, training, employability support, Zoom chats and 1:1 telephone calls.

Highland charity Mikeysline also offers support at