Experts at the University of Birmingham’s School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences planned to assess current studies on athletes’ mental health help-seeking to emphasise the fact that proper research to consolidate existing knowledge was a necessary next step.
Athletes are less likely to seek help for mental health issues than non-athletes. They can also face challenges, including a lack of access to services or previous negative experiences when seeking help. While researchers understand the sources of support available – including those available in healthcare, sporting contexts and higher education systems, how athletes access these and their experience is less well understood.
Since athletes’ help-seeking for mental health is a relatively new area of research, a review of existing studies that could inform future research directions would be an important next step as new evidence is emerging continually.
The protocol, published in BMJ Open, outlines plans for a scoping review, leading to a clearer identification of gaps in the knowledge base and suggestions for further research.
Kirsty Brown, who led the research, said: “Athletes are known to have similar rates of issues such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders as the general population, yet they have lower rates of help-seeking for mental health. It’s likely, therefore, that a significant proportion of athletes are not getting the help they need and so it’s really important that we understand how and when athletes are looking for help, and what their experience of using services is.”
The BMJ protocol sets out clear stages for a comprehensive programme of research which includes an investigation of how easy athletes believe it is to access services; how willing they are to seek out support, and whether the preference would be to get help from inside the sports environment or turn to coaches for help.