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The secret mental health struggles of elite sports stars

Chronic pain going untreated in the UK

A leading mental health charity has expressed concern that elite sports stars are failing to get help for mental health issues due to fear of what people might think.

In a new report commissioned by Mind, athletes are considered to be at particular risk from severe anxiety and stress, yet are not receiving enough support to feel confident seeking help.

In recent years a number of successful sportspeople have taken their lives – including Wales football manager, Gary Speed who died in 2011 – and it is believed many crumble under the pressure of such an intense career.

Often athletes find their whole livelihood, self-esteem and sense of worth depends on their success as a sportsperson, and when their career ends it can be an incredibly hard adjustment.

Former QPR footballer, Clarke Carlisle attempted suicide aged 21 when a knee injury threatened to end his career.

Speaking to the BBC he explained the pressure sportspeople face:

“The margins between success and failure are so small, that’s why elite sport dominates your life.

“It becomes a person’s identity. A person’s work life and personal life merge into one and it’s all based on their performance in their sport.”

After doctors told him he may never play again, Carlisle said he felt his whole livelihood had been taken away.

“I really could not process the prospect of a life without football. In my head, my self-esteem, my worth, my value was linked to football.”

Carlisle is now an ambassador for Mind and hails the charity’s initiative to rally more support for elite sports stars.

Although support services are currently provided by individual sports, Mind feels more action needs to be taken by government officials, professional clubs and community organisations to address increasing mental health issues among all elite athletes.

Carlisle added that sports coaches in particular need to be more aware and supportive of their players’ mental health.

“The perception of mental health [in sport] is that it is a personal individual weakness and something that will make that person a liability. And that perception has to change,” he said.

“Until the managers have an awareness that a person’s mental health is as important as their physical health nothing will change.”

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Tamara Marshall

Written by Tamara Marshall

Written by Tamara Marshall

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