Addressing the Context and Make Up of Mental Health Issues in High-Performing Athletes

Lebrun, Florence (2020) Addressing the Context and Make Up of Mental Health Issues in High-Performing Athletes. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Concerns and initiatives about mental health have grown among scholars and sport organisations. As such, refinement of our understanding of mental health issues in high-level sport is an important step to facilitate and improve the support and care of athletes’ mental health. As a first step to this end, a thorough review of the literature was conducted, in this thesis, highlighting interesting comparisons and contrasts between high-performing athletes and the general population in terms of the genesis, assessment, and diagnosis of mental health issues. Building on this, a qualitative study enabled a rich exploration of elite athletes’ experience of mental health issues. The nature (e.g., depression), the symptomatology (e.g., behaviour, performance and character changes), the perceived triggers (e.g., sport and non-sport related) of their mental health issues as well as their subsequent management strategies (e.g., talking, seeking professional help, and social support) were discussed. The stigma associated with mental health issues in high-level sport environments was also stressed by the participants. Extending this work and reflecting on coaches’ role in athletes’ performance and well-being, a second study investigated the perspective of coaches working with athletes experiencing mental health issues. While coaches considered monitoring and supporting their athletes’ performance and well-being as day-to-day practice, dealing with mental health issues was, however, regarded as falling outside their professional competency. Further examining the complexity of mental health issues in sport, a third study highlighted the influence of the social milieu on athletes’ attitudes and beliefs towards depression. Reflecting high-performance coaches’ and athletes’ specific needs, a rationale for the design of effective mental care in sport was developed with an emphasis on how this may be best operationalised. Overall, this thesis highlighted high-performing athletes’ and stakeholders’ experience, perception and understanding of mental health issues as well as the need for sport-specific and evidence-based actions directed towards the management of mental health issue as well as the protection and promotion of mental health in sport populations.

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