Leading the conversation on Athlete mental health

The IOC Medical and Scientific Commission has published a landmark consensus paper on mental health, which aims to address the many different mental health issues that elite athletes can face.

  • Experts analysed current research and best practices regarding athlete mental health.
  • Their paper offers guidance on prevention and management techniques to better support the mental well-being of elite athletes.
  • Athlete365 will be addressing a number of the topics outlined in the paper over the next 12 months, with insight from athletes and experts.

Why have the IOC published this paper?

“Mental health disorders can impair performances and increase the risk of physical injuries,” explains Professor Uğur Erdener, Chair of the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission. “There is no evidence to suggest that mental health symptoms and disorders are more prevalent in elite athletes, but it is estimated that a significant number of elite athletes are affected at some stage of their career.”

With this in mind, the IOC established a Mental Health Working Group – featuring a diverse group of experts – to analyse current research and best practices and then report their findings in this paper.

What is it?

The paper (which was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and is available here) is mainly aimed at doctors, psychiatrists and other professionals who work with elite athletes.

It examines the various mental health symptoms and disorders in elite athletes and offers guidance on prevention and management techniques to help improve their mental health.

Why is this important?

The paper aims to help create a sporting environment that better supports the mental well-being of elite athletes.

It covers several topics that may be familiar to athletes, including depression, anxiety, sleeping disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, gambling and other behavioural addictions.

The paper also looks at the barriers that prevent elite athletes from accessing mental health resources and how we can overcome them.

How have athletes been involved?

Following the publication of this paper, the IOC Athletes’ Commission (AC) has recommended that a mental health toolkit should be developed with best practices for athletes, sports organisations and athlete entourages.

“We all care about athletes’ well-being and want to encourage athletes who may be going through these tough times to take the first courageous step of asking for help,” said IOC AC Chair Kirsty Coventry.

Tackling mental health in Olympic sport was one of the key topics addressed at the International Athletes’ Forum in April 2019, with US figure skater Gracie Gold featuring on a panel discussion. This provided the opportunity for athletes to express their needs and ensure that the IOC hears their concerns.

Over the next 12 months, we will be addressing a number of key topics related to mental health, with insight from athletes and a number of experts from the IOC Mental Health Working Group. Sign up to Athlete365 to stay updated.