Addressing the multifaceted aspects of mental health symptoms and disorders in elite athletes, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Medical and Scientific Commission has published a consensus paper on mental health in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM). It was written by an IOC Consensus Group coordinated by the Commission.
“Mental health disorders can impair performances and increase the risk of physical injuries,” said 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.”
This is the reason why a Consensus Group was established to examine in depth the set of symptoms and disorders and come up with a Consensus Paper.
“A group of 20 experts, expressing geographical and professional diversity, was in charge of the project,” explained IOC Medical and Scientific Director Dr Richard Budgett. “It included psychiatrists, psychologists, athlete representatives and sports medicine professionals. Their different backgrounds and expertise were crucial to develop the consensus on prevention and management of mental health symptoms and disorders from every angle, as it is certainly a complex issue.”
The Consensus Paper is available here
It is aimed at sports medicine physicians and clinicians, psychiatrists, researchers, other mental health and performance professionals who work with elite athletes, and clinical or other institutional stakeholders in sport.
The Paper includes several topics, including the incidence of mental health symptoms and disorders, concerns in Paralympic athletes, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, sleep, substance use, gambling and other behavioural addictions, management of mental health emergencies, and bipolar and psychotic disorders. The Paper also investigates the barriers that prevent elite athletes from accessing mental health resources while also creating a sporting environment that supports mental well-being and resilience.
In order to publish a comprehensive and widely supported paper, the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission convened a consensus meeting in November 2018, where the group of experts analysed the current best evidence to provide guidance for clinical practice to improve mental health among elite athletes.
Prior to the meeting, several topic-focused teams were established: they screened a total of 14,689 published articles describing and establishing recommendations for non-pharmacologic and pharmacologic management of mental health symptoms and disorders in elite athletes.
During the Consensus meeting, topic leaders presented their systematic review findings, followed by a group discussion that led to recommendations on how to minimise negative impacts of the sport environment on mental health.
Mental health discussed at the International Athletes’ Forum
Tackling mental health in Olympic sport was one of the topics discussed at the International Athletes’ Forum in April 2019, to listen to athletes’ needs and have a two-way conversation with them on this issue.
Specifically, participants provided their feedback on the first draft of a mental health toolkit produced by the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission together with the IOC Athletes’ Commission. The creation of a toolkit was agreed in January 2019 during a joint meeting between the IOC Executive Board and the IOC Athletes’ Commission. It is aimed at increasing athletes’ well-being, offers concrete support to those who may suffer from this disorder, and includes best practices for athletes, sports organisations and athlete entourages.
The mental health session at the International Athletes’ Forum was live-streamed, together with all the plenary sessions, and the video can be watched here.