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21 Mar 2018 112

Government unveils mental health action plan to improve support for elite sportspeople

Coaches and support staff will be given extra training to spot the signs of poor mental health in athletes as part of a new action plan to reduce stigma and improve support for professional sportspeople.

Tracey Crouch, Minister for Sport and Civil Society, today unveiled the first Mental Health Action Plan for Elite Sport, which has been developed with mental health and sports organisations, including UK Coaching, to improve awareness and training in top-level sport. 

A new mental health strategy will be implemented across all elite sports to promote good mental wellbeing and give athletes and National Governing Bodies better information about accessing sports and clinical psychologists. 

By 2024, elite sport must have mental health procedures embedded in their performance plans, and provide clear pathways for athletes to help them access professional mental health support. 

National Lottery Funded athletes will also be encouraged to visit mental health units to improve discussions and help break down the stigma around mental health. 

Good mental health practise will also be embedded at a grassroots level as part of the plan. 

Sport England will ingrain mental wellbeing into its Talent Strategy and teach holistic athlete development, and mental health welfare alongside physical training. 

The Action Plan was developed after the Minister hosted two roundtables last year one with elite athletes from across British sport to hear firsthand the pressures they face and the other for sports and mental health organisations to discuss how the sector can improve support, and share best practice.

Tracey Crouch, Minister for Sport and Civil Society, said:

“We know that sport has a very positive impact on people’s mental health and can help in their recovery. But when sport is your job, the immense pressure to succeed can become too much. 

“This Action Plan sets out how Government, sports and mental health organisations can work together to give athletes the right support before they reach crisis point. 

“Progress has been made to break down the stigma around mental health and this plan underlines our commitment to tackling this important issue in sport. It will help create a stronger industry where our elite sports men and women can continue to thrive and inspire future generations.”

Emma Boggis, chief executive of the Sport Recreation Alliance, said:

“I am very pleased to have worked together with the Sports Minister and Mind to develop this Action Plan which is committed to making a real change for elite sportspeople.

“We know that there is good practice in the sector through our work on the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation and working closely with our wider membership. But we also recognise that this needs to become common practice so that athletes and their support teams feel that their mental wellbeing is a priority.

“We believe that by working together we can collectively help to create a positive environment, with greater understanding and knowledge, that helps our athletes and the wider population to engage in sport and physical activity.”

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:

“This is an important step forward in making sure elite sportspeople are able to access help and support for their mental health. This plan reflects the clear objectives set out in Thriving at Work, for all organisations to be clear about their approach to the mental health of their people.

"We’re delighted to have worked with the Minister for Sport and Civil Society, on the first Mental Health Action Plan for Elite Sport. One in four of us in the UK will be affected by a mental health problem in any year and elite sports professionals are no different. We have seen an increase in sportspeople revealing their own mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and self-harm. There is an urgent need to improve the support available when people need it and to create an environment where it’s always ok to ask for help.   

“Although more athletes are opening up, we still don’t know how many sportspeople are struggling in silence. The launch of this action plan will help to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and lead to a future where all sports professionals will be supported to fulfil their potential.

“We have been working with Sport England for some time on our Get Set to Go programme which has trained coaches in mental health awareness. By coming together with the sector and pooling our expertise we hope to achieve much needed change, prioritising mental health for sports people at all levels. There is also some exciting progress being made now in the sport and physical activity sector. Mind has recently announced that it will be the charity partner for the English Football League from the start of next season and we will be working with their 72 Clubs to raise awareness about mental health and support their players, managers and staff.”

The government will now establish a small group to oversee progress in delivering the plan and will report on progress as part of the Sporting Future annual report to Parliament.