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Mental health of elite athletes examined

Dr Paul Gorczynski

A University of Portsmouth expert has lent his expertise to the International Olympic Committee’s consensus statement on mental health in athletes published today.

Dr Paul Gorczynski, of the Department of Sport and Exercise Science, helped review all the available evidence on the mental health of elite athletes looking at how common mental health problems are; how it is diagnosed; its impact on athletic performance.

He also studied the literature describing and establishing recommendations for non-pharmacological and pharmacological management of mental health symptoms and disorders in elite athletes, and provided recommendations for how to minimise negative impacts of the sport environment on mental health symptoms and disorders in elite athletes.

The IOC consensus statement is available here.

It is aimed at sports medicine physicians and clinicians, psychiatrists, researchers, other mental health and performance professionals who work with elite athletes, and clinical or other institutional stakeholders in sport.

Chair of the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission, Professor Uğur Erdener, said: “Mental health disorders can impair performances and increase the risk of physical injuries.

“There is no evidence to suggest that mental health symptoms and disorders are more prevalent in elite athletes, but it is estimated that a significant number of elite athletes are affected at some stage of their career.”

The paper includes mental health symptoms and disorders, concerns in Paralympic athletes, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, sleep, substance use, gambling and other behavioural addictions, management of mental health emergencies, and bipolar and psychotic disorders.

It also investigates the barriers that prevent elite athletes from accessing mental health resources while also creating a sporting environment that supports mental well-being and resilience.

Tackling mental health in Olympic sport was one of the topics discussed at the International Athletes’ Forum in April 2019, to listen to athletes’ needs and have a two-way conversation with them on this issue.

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