Sports unite to support mental health
Medical experts from across Scottish sport came together at a conference at Hampden today to discuss one of the biggest taboos in sport – the prevalence of mental health issues amongst athletes.
The purpose of the event was to raise awareness of mental health issues in sport and to demonstrate the good work being done in Scotland, while sharing best practice and working together for the benefits of athletes.
The inherent risk of injury to professional and high-performance athletes is well documented but, until recently, the risk to mental health had not attracted the same profile.
Despite the public perception that elite athletes are immune from mental health problems, research has shown the issues surrounding life as an elite sportsperson actually increases the risk of suffering a mental health problem.
Work has been going on behind the scenes to understand the unique pressures faced by athletes and their families, and programmes are in place to ensure they get the specialist help and support they need as quickly as possible.
Mental Health Minister Clare Haughey said: “We want everyone across Scotland to be able to get the right help at the right time, free from stigma and discrimination.
“Mental health and wellbeing is everyone’s business, not just for the NHS – so it’s great to see delegates from the NHS and a wide range of sports organisations and clubs, as well as colleagues from academia and the third sector getting involved.
“Strong research is now emerging to support the links between physical activity and positive mental wellbeing and we want to help everyone to be more active, more often. It’s also important that we recognise the mental and physical wellbeing of athletes within high performance sport – and this event provides an excellent opportunity for discussion across sectors.”
Today’s conference, organised by the Hampden Sports Clinic in conjunction with PFA Scotland, sportscotland, Scottish Football Association (Scottish FA,) Scottish Rugby and Breathing Space, is designed to raise awareness of the issue, to highlight the work that is already being done, and to share best practice across the industry.
Dr John MacLean, Chief Executive of Hampden Sports Clinic and the Scottish FA’s Medical Consultant explains why the conference is so important:
“Having identified the scale of mental health issues in Scottish football and common underlying factors we have successfully provided expert clinical input through the “Support Within Sport” programme.
“With the excellent work being done by other sporting, Governmental and voluntary groups this conference is about sharing best practice and discussing with colleagues as to the future provision of mental health support for our athletes.”
In 2018, Scottish Rugby launched its own holistic programme, Rugby for Life, designed to work with players at every age and stage in their careers. Scottish Rugby’s Player Liaison Officer Ben Atiga presented the now established programme to the attending delegates to outline how the sport supports players at relevant ages and stages of their careers.
The initiative aims to take a proactive approach to player support through education, awareness and hands-on experience to enable players to develop their mental health resilience and help in achieving a healthy sport/life balance as they transition into, or out of, professional rugby.
Former All Black and Edinburgh centre, Ben Atiga works at Scottish Rugby with the HR department and has been instrumental in the development and delivery of the programme with players and support staff.
Scottish Rugby’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr James Robson MBE also attended and said: “We know that awareness of mental health is growing in society and this is now being reflected in high performance sport.
“Our Rugby for Life programme aims to take a holistic look at the player and works to identify and tackle potential triggers which can impair mental health and the possibility of making poor life decisions or wider health implications this can bring.
I am really encouraged by today’s conference and think it is vital sports share expertise and experiences to benefit the wider sporting community and society more broadly. Dr James Robson MBE
Athletes at the top of their game are revered as heroes and legends but underneath the surface they may be battling crippling anxiety and depression just to get on the pitch or to the start line.
Athletes including Scotland hooker Fraser Brown and World Champion speed skater, Elise Christie, addressed the conference to share their experience.
Across sport, more athletes are coming forward to share their stories in a bid to remove the stigma attached to mental health issues and to spread the message that it’s okay not to be okay.
Delegates at today’s conference included doctors and medical staff from football and rugby clubs, along with practitioners from the sportscotland institute of sport.
In addition to this a number of athletes, academics and representatives from the Voluntary sector also attended.