Blog: World Mental Health Day
Posted on: 09 October 2020 by Amy Longster/Luke Jennings
For World Mental Health Day, Loughborough Student Amy Longster has written about the importance of taking care of our mental health.
Good physical health is fundamental to every sporting success; so is athletes’ mental health, perhaps this year more than most. October 10th is World Mental Health Day, which offers an opportunity for athletes and support staff to talk and reflect.
Elite athletes would not neglect or ignore poor physical health. Yet, some may feel uncomfortable addressing issues surrounding their mental wellbeing, which could be due to a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is due to a lack of understanding of mental health, or possibly because they do not know who to speak to. Would athletes feel shame receiving treatment from a physiotherapist for a physical injury? Asking for help when you need it is OK.
The current situation
With the Olympic and Paralympic Games postponed and other sports suffering from season cancellations and postponements, 2020 has inevitably put a strain on every athlete’s mental health. A fear of the unknown is natural, and with it not clear when things will return to ‘normal' feelings of anxiety and worry can come to the fore. The pandemic has put huge uncertainty on people’s lives – both personally and professionally.
Of course, the pandemic has brought some good. We are beginning to see better communication around mental health, with more and more recognising how important it is to start the conversation. If that is the case, this World Mental Health Day should focus on how we all should remain healthy. In such an unexpectedly challenging year, looking after our mental health is so important.
Importance of good mental wellbeing
Education surrounding the benefits of good mental health is important and it remains crucial that we continue the conversations around how to help those improve their mental health.
We know that sportspeople possess so many transferable skills that could be used in other areas of their life. Applying these skills to look after their mental health is the difficult part. Experiences of being deselected or injured all have contributed to the development of skills such as resilience and problem solving. These are skills that can then be applied by an athlete to support them with mental health challenges they may face.
Good mental health is important for elite sportspeople to achieve their potential in and outside of sport. Sport and mental health are inextricably linked; a good performance can impact positively on mental health and equally a poor performance has the potential to have a real negative impact on mental health. Strategies to manage these fluctuations must be put in place.
What athletes can do to enhance their mental health
The phrase ‘mental health’ can itself cause worry in some. Moving away from immediately associating challenges with mental health is the first step in ensuring we have good conversations about our mental health.
Regularly checking in with others and doing small things to improve your wellbeing is an effective way of working towards better mental health. Small changes to our lifestyles can make a huge difference. Prioritising sleep, taking time out of work or sport to see friends and family are both great ways to do this.
Being kind to ourselves and each other may seem obvious but is important. One in four people in the world are affected by mental disorders at some point in their lives . It is not uncommon. We all should be more open in talking about this and be mindful of others who may be experiencing these challenges.
Athletes can also utilise the services that organisations and charities offer to help with mental wellbeing. Switch the Play Foundation can offer services that will support athletes during these challenging times; enabling them to continue to grow personally and professionally.
If everyone checks in with one person today on World Mental Health Day, it may make a big difference to all of us.