Leading the way on athlete mental health

From publishing a Consensus Paper with recommendations for athlete mental health support, to hosting webinars about staying #MentallyFit during COVID-19, the IOC and Athlete365 have continued to further increase support over the past two years to drive the conversation on mental health to help you with your well-being. Here, we break down some of the key milestones and initiatives.

  • The IOC has been leading the way on athlete mental health and published a Consensus Paper in 2019 to guide athlete support measures in the Olympic Movement.
  • Mental Health was a focus topic at the International Athletes’ Forum in 2019.
  • This year we have provided well-being content, resources and events to help you navigate the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • In partnership with Intel, Athlete365 is also offering you a free, six-month free subscription to Headspace, the meditation and sleep app proven to reduce stress and improve happiness.

Providing a framework for the Olympic Movement

In 2018, recognising the importance of mental health, the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission assembled a team of international experts to review the scientific literature addressing mental health symptoms and disorders in elite athletes. The result was a landmark Consensus Paper, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in May 2019, which recommended prevention and management techniques for doctors, psychiatrists, and other professionals who work with elite athletes.

A number of the authors of the study have since joined the IOC Mental Health Working Group, which is continuing to take action to create effective ways that the Olympic Movement can support you with your mental health.

International Athletes’ Forum

The co-chair of the IOC Mental Health Working Group, Vincent Gouttebarge, and the athlete representative, Abhinav Bindra, joined a vital panel discussion on mental health at the International Athletes’ Forum in April 2019. The panel also featured IOC Medical and Scientific Commission Chair Dr Richard Budgett, and Gracie Gold, the American figure skater and Olympic medallist who has been so open about her struggles with mental illness.

“At first I didn’t want to come out about it because of the stigma, which made me feel like I was the only one who wasn’t strong enough,” Gracie said of her decision to tell her story in the media. “But I got hundreds and hundreds of responses from athletes at all levels and in all sports, saying ‘me too’.”

The panel discussion and the response to it has helped bring forward the discussions on athlete mental health across the globe and will lead to the creation of a Mental Health Toolkit for athletes, a project which is being driven by the IOC Athletes’ Commission.

Raising awareness

Since the Forum, Athlete365 has been raising awareness of the importance of mental health in-person at events and through digital campaigns. For example, on World Mental Health Day on 10 October 2019, we released a video that showed how mental and physical health are inseparable. The video reached more than one million people, helping to further break the silence and drive the conversation around mental health in sport.

A greater emphasis on mental health was then included in the athlete education programme for the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020. In addition to learning about issues such as anti-doping and the prevention of competition manipulation in the Athlete365 Space, young athletes who visited the Safe Sport booth could view our video and were encouraged to discuss the topic with Athlete Role Models and IOC staff.

The #MentallyFit campaign will also be rolled out at the Athlete365 Space in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Village.  

Helping you stay #MentallyFit during COVID-19

Over the past few months, with COVID-19 turning athletes’ lives upside down all over the world, causing isolation from communities, and putting goals and dreams on hold, athlete mental health become more important than ever.

We quickly organised a survey of more than 4,000 athletes and entourage members, where we asked the question: ‘What are you currently finding most challenging?’ In response, 32% of you revealed that you had been finding ‘manging your mental health’ most challenging, while 40% of entourage members said ‘supporting their athletes’ mental health’ was one of their biggest challenges.

We listened, and we responded. In addition to a suite of expert-led content and practical advice for staying positive during this period of uncertainty, we launched a series of webinars to further support and inspire you. One of them, which took place on 16 June, was specifically dedicated to mental health and featured Dr Claudia Reardon, co-chair of the IOC Mental Health Working Group, who shared tips for athletes and entourage members for coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Re-watch the webinar with Dr Claudia Reardon here

Well-being support with Headspace

In June, we also launched an exciting new athlete support programme with Intel, which includes well-being services and opportunities to learn how to better deal with stress and anxiety with Headspace.

Headspace is a meditation and sleep app used by 66 million people around the world, and is proven to reduce stress and improve happiness. As part of our new offer, you will gain six months of free access to the highest level of Headspace subscription, including a full library with themed courses, a new meditation every day, sleep exercises and bedtime sounds, and move mode for body and mind fitness.

Get your free, six-month Headspace subscription here