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Guest blog: Mental health provision for elite athletes is strong but must keep improving

Last Saturday (10 October) marked World Mental Health Day - the annual event focusing on mental health education, awareness and advocacy.

Each year the day shines the spotlight on a particular aspect of mental ill health and the theme for this year is Dignity in Mental Health. It is very important that we continue to draw attention to this area – which historically hasn’t received much profile compared with other areas of health and wellbeing.

At the English Institute of Sport (EIS), the mental health and wellbeing care services we provide to elite athletes is becoming increasingly important.

We think of ourselves as ‘the team behind the team’ at the EIS and aim to provide sports, coaches and athletes with the best package of support, delivered by the best people in the best possible environment. Our job is to increase the probability of an athlete being successful through the delivery of science, medicine, technology and engineering.

Alongside UK Sport and our other partners, we have ensured that the high performance system is better equipped than ever to provide these services to the top athletes in the country as they look to achieve medal success on the world stage.

However, our work is far from done and we remain hugely committed to developing these services further as we head into the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games and beyond.

The EIS primary care services include the day-to-day work of our practitioners and doctors in providing access to counselling and case consultancies with third partners.

In addition, the EIS has developed a Mental Health Referral Programme (MHRP). This provides access to secondary care services for elite athletes who can be referred by our doctors to specialist psychiatric and clinical psychology support services to address a range of mental health and wellbeing issues such as depression, stress, anxiety, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders and addictions.

Early interventions and preventative measures have also been developed to enable EIS practitioners that work on daily basis with athletes to provide support on mental health issues.

Of course the responsibility for identifying and raising mental health concerns does not lie solely with doctors and psychologists so the EIS has put in place a range of measures to enables all of its practitioners (particularly nutritionists, physiotherapists and performance lifestyle advisors) to be better equipped to identify and act upon concerns in this area.

By providing a range of services, the EIS aims to enable the whole high performance system to be better equipped to deal with mental health and wellbeing issues and develop a coherent system and approach addressing the issues that arise and provide necessary and appropriate support to elite athletes.

We believe this vital support will play a major role in helping our athletes compete with the world’s best and hopefully come out on top in the big moments so that they can stand proudly on top of the podium when the medals are handed out.

Sarah Cecil is a Lead Sport Psychologist at the EIS. The EIS helps elite athletes to improve performance through the delivery of science, medicine, technology and engineering.