Olympic swimming champion Adam Peaty has joined the mental health charity Mind in calling for more mental health support for the nation’s sporting heroes. Speaking at the launch of Mind’s ‘Mental Health in Elite Sport’ report, Peaty told a roundtable of national sporting bodies about the unique pressures he and other elite athletes face.
Peaty, who is the current Olympic, World, Commonwealth & European Champion in the 100 metre breaststroke, spoke out last year about the importance of elite athletes looking after their mental health. Peaty, alongside Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka, are credited in the report with helping to open up the conversation around mental health in sport.
Adam Peaty OBE, Olympic, World, Commonwealth & European Champion, said: “Being an elite athlete brings with it huge amounts of pressure and expectation. From my own experience I know that to be at the top of your game you need to have the best support possible for both your physical and your mental health.
“While the conversation around mental health in sport is starting to open up, it’s clear that there’s more that needs to be done. As Mind’s work shows, we need to make sure that all athletes have the right support for their mental health at the right time, so that they can not only compete, but thrive.”
The landmark report, which was funded by ASICS as part of its charity partnership with Mind, draws on the insights of organisations and athletes from across the sport sector. It explores the ways that attitudes and support needs of elite athletes have changed in the past seven years. It builds on Mind’s 2014 findings which suggested that many sportspeople were suffering in silence for fear that seeking support for their mental health would put their careers in jeopardy.
Mental Health in Elite Sport suggests that sports organisations are finding new ways to support their people’s mental health. From apps, to mental health screening, and cross-sector knowledge sharing, the appetite for tackling mental health problems is in evidence.
The report, however, acknowledges that more needs to be done and goes on to highlight the key areas where more work needs to be done, including:
- more help to cope with social media abuse
- more work to tackle stigma
- better support for athletes with more complicated problems (e.g. psychosis, suicidal thoughts or eating disorders)
- more help for coaches and the team around an athlete
- more funding to treat mental health problems on equal terms as physical health
Tess Howard, GB Hockey team player, said: “When I joined the GB Hockey team in 2018, at the start I perceived it was somewhat of a weakness to seek mental health support. That changed during the pandemic when we couldn’t perform any more because there were no competitions. Having that taken away meant that all there was to focus on was your mental health and your physical health. That brought us a lot closer together as a team.
“We had a massive conversation as a group to talk about how we were going to look after each other’s mental health. Hockey is a thinking game and if you’re feeling off in your head, you’re off in your performance instantly. I’m really proud of the way that we, as the GB Hockey team, have embraced the performance aspect of mental health.”
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “We celebrate our sporting heroes when they win us medals and trophies, but the pressure to perform and succeed can come at a great personal cost to their mental health.
“While it is encouraging that the likes of Adam Peaty, Simone Biles and Ben Stokes have helped shine a spotlight on the mental health of elite athletes, it also shows us there is still much work to be done to support them.
“Our report suggests that there has been a great deal of effort put in across the sport sector to increase the support available for elite athletes. Sports organisations putting in these hard yards mean athletes are better able to perform well, not just in competition, but in every part of their lives.
“There are, however, always things that can be improved upon and it is clear we need to keep investing in mental health support so elite athletes can stay well in and out of sport.
“A major concern highlighted in our findings is the continued impact of online abuse on elite athletes, something which urgently needs tackling with more specialist services, training and support. We also want to see more emphasis not just on athletes, but the team of support staff around them. Professional sportswomen also need better mental health support. With women’s sport becoming more high-profile, athletes told us they want help adjusting to the additional pressures this brings.
“More than anything we want to see an environment where elite athletes can perform to their fullest potential. Every athlete should feel they have the right options available to them when things get tough and they need support. We celebrate our sporting heroes in their moments of success, but it is vital to have the right systems in place for when they are in their hour of need.”
Read more on the Mental Health in Elite Sport report