Athletes are certainly not immune to mental health issues, with just over one in three experiencing them at some point in their life.
This rate is somewhat higher than the general population, and may reflect sports-related stressors contributing to mental health challenges (including injury or performance pressures).

The IOC Sport Mental Health Recognition Tool, or SMHRT-1, can help you to recognise when you or someone close to you might be in need of further support.

Your mental health and well-being are just as important to your performance as your physical health, and recognising any problems can help you be at your best.

Mental health issues affect everyone

You and your fellow athletes are not immune to mental health challenges. Studies show that just over one in three athletes may experience mental health symptoms and disorders – a level somewhat higher than the general population (where 1 in 4 are affected). While regular physical activity is associated with improvements in physical and mental wellness, there are sport-specific factors which may impact your mental well-being, such as injury, performance pressures, harassment and abuse, dealing with failure and/or success, and transitioning out of sport.

These factors are on top of the general (i.e. non-sport) risk factors that athletes can experience, such as adverse life events or circumstances (e.g. relationship or financial challenges or poor life balance), social isolation or loneliness.

Despite the frequency of mental health issues in sport and in the general population, some people still hold negative or unhelpful views about mental health. This can make it harder for athletes to feel comfortable to come forward and talk about their challenges (which others might be experiencing too) or seeking help.

Studies show that just over one in three athletes may experience mental health symptoms and disorders – a level somewhat higher than the general population.

Ultimately, the pinnacle of athletic performance is reached when your physical and mental well-being are cared for as two halves of a whole.

Additionally, whilst it might be easier to identify when someone has a physical injury that requires medical care, it can be less easy to recognise when someone might be in need of mental health and well-being support.

Recognising the signs or symptoms of mental health issues is therefore crucial to breaking down barriers and taking the important next step of seeking help and guidance. Remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, and prioritising your mental health and life balance, alongside your physical performance, is vital.

So how do you recognise when someone needs support? How do we recognise when we ourselves need support?

Checking your mental health

There are a number of mental health screening tools available for the general population, but elite sporting environments are unique places, leading the IOC Mental Health Working Group to develop a tool designed specifically for recognising mental health symptoms and disorders in elite athletes.

It is called The IOC Sport Mental Health Recognition Tool 1, or the SMHRT-1, and you can download it here.

The SMHRT-1 is designed to assist athletes, coaches, family, friends, and other members of their entourage to recognise mental health symptoms or disorders in elite athletes, and offer ways to provide assistance in finding support.

The tool is easy to use and presents a list of athlete experiences (thoughts, feelings, behaviours and physical changes) that could indicate a need for further support, particularly if these experiences are persistent and/or impacting day-to-day functioning.

Ultimately, the pinnacle of athletic performance is reached when your physical and mental well-being are cared for as two halves of a whole, and having the tools to recognise when further help may be needed is a powerful step towards maximising your performance, health and well-being both on and off the field of play.

In addition to the SMHRT-1, our Mentally Fit Toolkit aims to help prioritise the mental health and well-being of athletes across the Olympic Movement.