Mental health is a part of SEM practice that most of us find difficult to deal with due to its complexity. We are privileged to help exceptional and very motivated individuals, whose mental fabric determines their performance.
The Mental Health in Sport Conference hosted by the Maudsley Learning in London last July gave me an opportunity to learn from experts in this field. It hosted a wide range of high profile sporting associations professional, which included the Football Association, Professional Players Federation, British Athletes Commission, the national agency for sport in Scotland, and the Rugby Players’ Association.
This conference started with a personal testimony by the multi-award winning British Tennis Coach Oliver Jones, and it was followed by epidemiological research in elite football presented by Professor Dr Astrid Junge, the Head of Research at the Fédération International de Football Association Medical Assessment and Research Centre (F-MARC). Interestingly, this research highlighted very strong links between anxiety, low mood and conflicts with coaches or management. It also showed very high prevalence of poor emotional and mental health in injured athletes.
Mental health disorders are more common in young adults and athletes, similarly to the rest of the population. Athletes are often isolated from their support network for long periods of time due to the set-up of the training programmes. It is important to ensure that their environment allows and encourages them to discuss mental problems early with the medical team.
Dr Philippa Bennett and Dr Ian Beasley discussed common mental health issues in elite sports and screening programmes. Sarah Cecil, who is a Lead Sport Psychologist (Multi-sport) at the EIS, elaborated on that last point and explained on existing treatment pathways.
Dr Angus Mugford from IMG Academy presented an outline of ‘mind-set’ training in the private institute for young athletes. Jules Evans talk about his work with Saracens rugby club and how elements of Socrates and Epictetus philosophy, that set up foundation for modern CBT programmes, can be used to build up mental resilience and ‘life philosophy’ based on useful habits.
Other aspects of mental health were discussed including the mental/behavioural implications of concussions, the impact of sport on mental health, especially the aspect of enabling people with mental health to improve their social network and wellbeing through sport.
Athletes will not perform at their best if they are not well mentally and emotionally. Seeking professional help can be described as a 4-step process beginning with the individual becoming aware of a problem, then expressing the problem to others, followed by identifying accessible sources of help, and then seeking out professional help.
Fear of stigmatization and discrimination associated with mental problems discourage individuals from discussing their emotions and problems with us. It is important that we as sport physicians recognise this and reach out to individuals who are reluctant to seek our help early. Screening programs and targeting individuals at risk is important, but mental health promotion and prevention components should be structurally implemented into our practice.
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