It is becoming increasingly apparent that the mental health of elite athletes is just as important as their physical health.

As the sports industry continues to grow into a global phenomenon, the health and wellbeing of athletes is often overlooked.

As athletes are considered paragons of physical health, their mental wellbeing is not often considered by employers and organisers. However, as greater pressures become apparent in the 21st Century, such as the access provided to fans on social media or the expectation that comes with lucrative contracts or sponsorship deals, the mental health of athletes is being thrust into the foreground of concern.


There are several reasons why there is a growing trend of athletes suffering from mental health issues.

Elite-level athletes are some of the most famous and idolised people in the world. However, with such great adoration comes even greater expectation. Top athletes are known for being the best in their craft, and so there is a tremendous pressure to perform and achieve a positive result for the team every time they take the field.

There is also an expectation for athletes to ‘win at all costs’, meaning they are expected to put their body and mind on the line to achieve for their team. This can take a massive toll on their health and can lead to an overwhelming feeling of anxiety both on and off the field.

This links to the growing relationship between developments in sports science and an increase in mental health issues amongst athletes. As the technology used in the sports industry continues to grow and push the boundaries of capability, athletes also find their physical limits pushed to the extreme. This can lead to injuries and exhaustion, which have been linked to anxiety and depression in athletes (1) as they feel uncapable of providing for their team, the fans, and their family.

This shows the importance of mental health and wellbeing for athletes and has led to calls for sports teams to do more to support their employees.

One of the reasons sports clubs are starting to take action is the improvement in on-field performance. Provision of crisis support services allows athletes to perform free of external stresses, such as libel or accusation. By supporting them off the field, athletes are allowed to focus on playing to the best of their ability, which in turn provides positive competitive results and improves the overall commercial value of the players and the business.

Furthermore, providing mental health support for athletes is an easy way to avoid frequent injuries and other issues. Athletes that are operating without stress and with optimal concentration levels are less likely to take risks or make mistakes, meaning they are less likely to be injured and affect their long-term commercial value.

Stigma is also a real concern in the sports industry, as many athletes struggle to talk about or recognise mental health issues in fear of scrutiny from fans and teammates, which ‘needs to go’, according to Ben Chilwell. By openly promoting mental health and wellbeing, this stigma can be addressed and encourages a greater culture of openness and support across the entire industry.

However, it is difficult for clubs to act on these issues as there are not many services or means through which they can provide consistent, bespoke crisis care for their staff. Accordingly, there are several practices that teams can adopt to tackle the mental health crisis in athletes.

Education, firstly, is the most effective way of changing the existing culture amongst athletes. The provision of courses and material that help them recognise common issues, as well as the signs to recognise and act upon them.

Some organisations and clubs are supplementing these materials with access to support services, such as crisis managers, therapists, or counsellors. Preston North End, for example, have signed up to the MA-Change Crisis Management platform, which grants their players and staff access to a plethora of mental health services and allows them to concentrate on the things that matter – performance and family.

Furthermore, employers can address the mental health issue by encouraging a more positive culture in sport – a culture that encourages openness and discussion and doesn’t punish those who have the courage to talk about their issues in the public spotlight. Cricket’s reputation, for example, has suffered badly as a result of the existing culture, as Azim Rafiq’s recent accusations has opened the floodgates on the harmful practices that have been allowed to thrive within county sides.

To conclude, the issue of mental health in athletes is becoming increasingly prevalent as contemporary pressures grow alongside the commercial expansion of the sports industry. Athletes, in the era of transparency, face more scrutiny from the fans, the media, and their employers than ever as the pressure to perform grows stark. This has led to issues amongst several high-profile stars, such as Ben Stokes, Tyson Fury, and Paul Pogba. However, sports organisations and teams are taking note; the Olympics, for example, is committed to providing mental health support for its competing athletes and the EFL has partnered with the charity ‘Mind’ to help tackle stigma. As more and more entities continue to recognise the importance of mental health towards performance and morale, mental health concern and crisis management services will hopefully become commonplace in the not too distant future.


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