Mental health action plan for elite athletes put in place by government

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‘I was in a very dark dark place’ – Chris Kirkland on anxiety & depression

A new action plan is being put in place to stop professional athletes “reaching crisis point” with their mental health.

The measures have been announced by the government to protect the mental health of athletes and include giving coaches and support staff extra training to spot the signs of poor mental health.

The plan has been developed with mental health and sport organisations.

Mental health action plan for elite athletes put in place by government
Mental health action plan for elite athletes put in place by government

The government says all elite sports must have a clear mental health strategy by 2024.

Is mental health an issue in sport?

A Professional Players’ Federation survey in February found more than half of former professional sportspeople had concerns about their mental or emotional wellbeing since retiring.

Former Burnley defender and ex-Professional Footballers’ Association chairman Clarke Carlisle has previously spoken of his mental health issues, while ex-England goalkeeper Chris Kirkland told the BBC about his battles with anxiety and depression which led to him retiring from professional football.

Rebekah Wilson, a member of Great Britain’s two-woman bobsleigh crew at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, told BBC Sport she self-harmed as she struggled to cope with the demands of elite competition.

And former Team Sky cyclist Josh Edmondson revealed he had severe depression after independently using the controversial painkiller Tramadol.

“Over the past 18 months there have been a number of high-profile stars reaching crisis point – a point where they had to be sectioned or taken out of the game,” sports minister Tracey Crouch told BBC Radio 5 live.

“What I wanted to do to is make sure we have the right interventions in place early on so they don’t reach crisis point.

“It is a good step forward to support elite sports stars in the future.”

Ian Braid, former CEO of the British Athletes’ Commission (BAC) and now managing director of Duty of Care in Action, said: “The effects of living in a high performance environment constantly worrying about selection, funding, injury and struggling with their identity on transition can’t be underestimated.

“Dealing with athletes’ mental health was my biggest challenge at the BAC. I would hope the plan extends to cover a duty of care to coaches, sports support and administrators. The devil will be in the detail and the budget.”

Action plan’s key points

The action plan sets out to establish “a high standard of mental health support in elite sport” and “ensure mental health support is available, and parity with physical health promoted, at every stage of the talent pathway”.

It is being run in partnership with UK Sport, Sport England, professional player associations, The Sport and Recreation Alliance and mental health charity Mind.

  • Training for performance directors, coaches and governing bodies on how to identify signs of mental ill-health and promote positive mental wellbeing.
  • A mental health pathway.
  • National Lottery funded athletes to visit mental health units to reduce stigma.
  • Sharing of best practice across the sport sector.
  • Improved mental health education and training.
  • An online resource and tailored guide to be produced.

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