Ailsa Harvey

Today, on World Mental Health Day, PACE News look at the unique pressures people face in the world of sport, and how this can affect the mind.

Many athletes carry out daily training with the aim to succeed in their sport and improve their physical health. But, it is important to remember that mental health is just as important as physical health.

‘Mind’, a mental health charity, has carried out research among the sporting community and “identified three particular mental health pressure points for professional sports people, coinciding with times of key transition”.

-LEAVING SPORT: The research found leaving sport to be a particularly demanding time in the lives of many young athletes. Sometimes unexpectedly, an individual may perform badly and this can result in them being dropped from their team, with funding withdrawn. For someone who has only known sport, life outside of the profession has proven difficult for many, leaving them lost and affecting their mental health.

“The margins between success and failure are so small, that’s why elite sport dominates your life.” – Former footballer Clarke Carlisle.

-RETIREMENT: Retirement can be a challenging time for athletes as they have spent their entire lives being defined by their sporting career. This can sometimes result in a huge drop in an individual’s self-esteem.

“The biggest thing I felt was a loss of identity and purpose.” – Double Olympic champion, Dame Kelly Holmes.

-STRUGGLING IN SILENCE: There appears to still be a stigma attached to mental health. It is for this reason that World Mental Health Day exists. However, athletes who are still playing and competing have expressed their concern about about the impact it will have on their career if they seek help for a mental health problem.

“If you wanted someone to enjoy life and be healthy, I was the least well-built machine for it.” – Former rugby player, Jonny Wilkinson.

An increasing number of high profile sportspeople are speaking out about their own personal struggles with mental health. These people are inspiring many in the sport, and governing bodies and player associations are beginning to recognise the importance of mental health in sport.