Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Mental Health and Sport

This week, Maudsley Learning, in association with the Register of Personal Development Practitioners in Sport (RPDPS) will be running a conference on mental health in sport.  The event, entitled Game Changing in Mental Health: Tackling Stigma and Building Resilience in Elite Sport*, tackles a very important issue in high performance sport, and promises to be an excellent conference.  Unfortunately,due to other commitments, I won't be able to attend, but I did take part in a webinar (Mental Health in Sport: Kicking Stigma Into Touch) that they ran in preparation for the event a few weeks ago.  That prompted me to revisit the whole area of depression and mental illness in sport, something which we first blogged about in November 2012.

Our original blog post looked at the causes and symptoms of depression, but there is so much that we don’t know, and so much more that can be done to help prevent and manage mental illness in competitive sport. One of the biggest take-home messages from the webinar for me was the comparison between psychology and psychotherapy and the need for both in sport.  The second speaker (Nick Peters, Clinical Psychotherapist and former Professional Cricketer) spoke of how through sports psychology, athletes are trained to avoid and dispel all negative thoughts and to remain in a positive state of mind at all times on the playing field, in order to maximise performance.  The area of mental health, however, requires us to embrace negative thoughts, confront our anxieties, and learn to manage strong emotions.  An athlete who suffers from mental illness, isn’t physically or even psychologically weak.  They just haven’t sufficiently developed the coping mechanisms to deal with everyday emotions, fears and anxieties. Many elite athletes may take the pressures that come with performing on the world’s greatest stage in their stride, but putting simple plans in place to ease the retirement transition, or even thinking about life after sport, may be a step too far.  In an environment where maintaining positive composure is so important, is it any wonder that athletes are so inept with dealing with everyday emotions, fears and anxieties?

Currently, there is a lot of focus is on ensuring that athletes have support structures in place when things go wrong, and that is a very positive move.  However, there is an argument that all athletes, even with no symptoms of mental illness, could benefit from training to manage their mental health.  Afterall, if prevention is better than cure in relation to the physical body, it definitely true for the mind.

In recognition of the role of prevention, some organisations have implemented prevention programmes, and some spend time delivering workshops to clubs.  This is in addition to a range of organisations that deal with the symptoms.  Below is a summary of just some of the groups and organisations which run prevention programm, help those suffering from distress, depression, eating disorder, addiction or other mental or psychological illness, raise awareness, or provide information or training for those in contact with vulnerable individuals.  Some, but not all, are specific to sport:


The Samaritans - UK & Ireland - www.samaritans.org - 08457 909090 (UK) / 116123 (free from ROI)
The Samaritans is charity which works across 201 branches in the UK and Ireland helping anyone in distress.  Though suicide prevention is one of their main aims, individuals don't have to be suicidal to contact them.  In fact, their website states the the majority of their callers are not suicidal.  Individuals in distress can contact by phone, email or in person.  Their website includes links to other sources of help for addiction, bereavement etc.


Maudley Learning - UK - www.maudsleylearning.com - @MaudsleyLearn
Maudley Learning is a UK-based organisation which aims to 'support and provide world class and accessible learning in mental health and wellbeing. 

State of Mind  - UK - Rugby League - www.stateofmindrugby.com - @SoMRugbyLeague;
State of Mind is an organising which works to improve the mental health, wellbeing and working like of rugby league players and communities.  After realising that the incidence of suicide was higher not only in rugby league players, but also in fans and communities (compared with the general UK population), the organisation began to work to use the sport to reach out to larger communities and increase awareness and help reduce the incidence of suicide in fans and communities.  Check out their 10 practical ways to look after your mental health. 

Opening Up Cricket - UK (NorthWest) - Cricket - www.thecalmzone.net/get-involved/opening-up/ - @OpeningupCC
Opening Up cricket is a projected launched as the result of the tragic passing of Sefton Park's Alex Miller. This dedicated and cricket focused group publices the work of CALM within cricket, and delivers short mental health support sessions to cricket clubs in the North West of England. 

The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) - UK - www.thecalmzone.net - @theCALMzone
CALM specifically targets suicide prevention in young males by offering support helpline support to men of all ages who are down or in a crisis, challenging the culture which prevents men for seeking help, and working with other organisations to push for changes in practice and policy. 

Aware - Ireland - www.aware.ie - 1890 303302
Aware is a large Irish-based charity which provides depression-related support, information and training. Individuals who are feeling depressed and those who are concerned for a friend or loved one can seek helpline support.


Sporting Chance Clinic - UK - www.sportingchanceclinic.com
Inspired by his own recovery from alcoholism, Sporting Chance Clinic is the brainchild of former Arsenal footaballer Tony Adams.  Tony saw the need for a safe, dedicated environment, where sportsmen and women could receive support and counselling for the kinds of destructive behaviour patterns that exist in competitive sport, but which are often denied. 

Gamcare - UK - www.gamcare.org.uk - 0808 8020133
GamCare provides support, information and advice to anyone suffering with a gambling problem though online support, phone support and counselling services.


Beat - UK - www.b-eat.co.uk - 0845 6341414
Beat provides helpline support, live chat, support groups, and online support to individuals suffering from eating disorders and their friends and families.  They also provide training and run conferences. 

Bodywhys - Ireland - www.bodywhys.ie - @bodywhys - 1890 303302
Bodywhys, The Eating Disorder Association of Ireland, offers a range of supports services for individuals suffering form eating disorders and those close to them, in the form of helpline support, support groups, online support and email support.  They do not offer counselling. 

Adapt Eating Distress Association - Northern Ireland - www.adapteatingdistress.com - 028 38323895
Adapt is a Northern Ireland body image and eating disorder orgnaisation which provides support to individuals in eating distress, and to their friends and family.


British Athletes Commission (BAC) - UK - www.britishathletes.org @TheBAC
The BAC is the association which offers acvice and support for elite Olympic, Paralympic and world Class athletes in more than 40 sports. The support in a range of areas which may cause distress, anxiety or depression in athletes.  Read an article by Ian Briad from the BAC here on some of the causes of distress in sport that they can help with. 

Professional Players Federation (PPF) - UK - www.ppf.org.uk
The PPF is the national organisation for professional player associations in the UK.  They are currently developing tutor training on identifying, treating and preventing problem gambling for professional athletes, which they will deliver in partnership with Gamcare. They have carried out research into the difficulties players face following retirement, and work with members to promote mental wellbeing initiatives and the importance of dual career preparation. 

Professional players associations, including BPA, RPA, PGA and PJA in UK and GPA in Ireland.
A number of professional sports have players associations which act as a voice for the players.  Some of these run specific initiatives to support the welfare of the player or athlete, or work with other organisations to provide this support for their members.  The Gaelic Players Association (GPA) provides a 24/7 confidential councelling support line for all its members. 

The Sport In Mind - www.thesportinmind,com - @TheSportInMind
A website covering a broad range psychology in sport topics, including a number of interesting pieces on mental health issues.

If you know of any organisations or resources that we've missed out on, please feel free to mention them as a comment below.

*Further details on the conference can be found here
The conference twitter hashtag is #GCMH

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