Mental Health and Elite Female Athletes: A Scoping Review

Perry, Carly, Champ, Francesca M., Macbeth, Jessica Louise orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-2564-2267 and Spandler, Helen orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0970-5141 (2021) Mental Health and Elite Female Athletes: A Scoping Review. Psychology of Sport and Exercise . ISSN 1469-0292

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This article examines the current state of literature focusing exclusively on mental health and mental illness of elite female athletes. The scoping review aimed to (1) identify the methodology used in this research, (2) explore the use of theory in these studies, and (3) provide an overview of the research purposes to identify gaps in the literature and provide recommendations for future research.

Scoping Review

Following the methodological framework by Arksey and O'Malley (2005), four databases were searched for studies that fulfilled the inclusion criteria. Following the identification of studies using broad search criteria, specific exclusion criteria were applied.

Twenty-four studies met the review criteria, of which twenty studies (83.3%) used quantitative methods and a cross-sectional research design. Of these studies, the majority (95%) focused on eating disorders and/or disordered eating prevalence rates in elite female athletes who compete in ‘lean-physique’ or endurance sports (e.g., gymnastics, long-distance, running). The restricted sample population of USA collegiate athletes, overreliance on quantitative methods, and heavy focus on eating disorder prevalence rates demonstrates an ongoing need for sport scholars to expand their research samples, methods, and aims.

Findings highlight the need for greater methodological diversity to advance our conceptual and theoretical understanding of elite female athletes' experiences of mental health and mental illness beyond numeric interpretations. Future research is needed to explore mental health in elite female athlete populations beyond ‘lean-physique’ athletes.

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