Skip to content
Notification Image

Important! APA's Online Systems Updated.

Password reset will be required.

Read more here >

Sports Organizations Take on Mental Health

  • June 18, 2019
  • Anxiety, Depression, Patients and Families

Several professional and elite sports organizations have recently taken action to support their athletes’ mental health and well-being.

In May, the NFL and the NFLPA announced a new initiative that will require teams to have a mental health professional on staff. They are also forming a Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Committee, which will develop educational programs on mental health and wellness for players, coaches, other personnel and players' family members.

The NBA announced the launch of a new Mental Health and Wellness Program in 2018, beginning with the hiring of a director of mental health and wellness. The program serves as a resource for players, assisting them with a wide range of mental health issues.

A picture containing floor, indoor Description automatically generatedThe NCAA has taken action to support student-athlete mental wellness, including developing a series of online educational videos for student-athletes, coaches and faculty athlete representatives. The series, developed by the NCAA’s Sport Science Institute, provides information and resources to help promote mental wellness and resiliency on campus and to destigmatize seeking help for mental health concerns.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) focused attention on mental health with publication of a consensus statement on mental health in May 2019.

The IOC statement is the result of extensive research and the work of 20 experts from around the world including psychiatrists, psychologists, athlete representatives and sports medicine professionals. It includes an overview of current scientific knowledge of best practices for treating athletes and specific guidance for teams on treating mental health issues among athletes.

In recent years, several professional and elite athletes have also spoken up about their own experiences with mental health issues including Olympic swimming champions Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt, ex-NFL players Brandon Marshall and Ricky Williams, and professional basketball players Imani Boyette and Larry Sanders. While athletes are not known to be more likely that the general public to be affected by mental illness, according to IOC Medical and Scientific Director Richard Budgett, M.D. However, their lives often involve special situations and significant stresses.

Mental health was also a key topic at the International Athletes’ Forum, held in April in Switzerland, where many athletes expressed a desire to see mental health issues addressed more openly in sport.

A picture containing water, sport, water sport, riding Description automatically generatedThe IOC report also suggests the important role coaches can play in supporting the mental well-being of athletes. Coaches can:

  • Create an environment where seeking help is a part of training and self-care.
  • Pay attention to athlete stressors that may be harmful to well-being, such as training load and recovery, injury, burnout and retirement.
  • Ensure that training is age and developmentally appropriate and communicate the importance of mental health care to parents of younger athletes.
  • Help athletes learn to respond to stressors in healthy ways, including skills that promote resilience, psychological flexibility and self-compassion.

The IOC report concludes with a hope that “all involved in sport will increasingly recognize that mental health symptoms and disorders should be viewed in a similar light as other medical illnesses and musculoskeletal injuries; all can be severe and disabling, and nearly all can be managed properly by well-informed medical providers, coaches and other stakeholders.”


International Olympic Committee/Greg Martin. Tackling Mental Health in Olympic Sport.

Reardon, CL, et al. (International Olympic Committee Consensus Work Group) Mental health in elite athletes: international Olympic Committee consensus statement (2019). BMJ Sports Med 2019, 53:667-699.

Team USA/Karen Price. As Mental Health Awareness Month Begins, Learn about the Topic from a Team USA Sports Psychologist. May 1, 2019.

Medical leadership for mind, brain and body.

Join Today