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Mental health symptoms and disorders in elite athletes: a systematic review on cultural influencers and barriers to athletes seeking treatment


Objective To summarise the literature on the barriers to athletes seeking mental health treatment and cultural influencers of mental health in elite athletes.

Design Systematic review

Data sources PubMed, Cochrane, Scopus, SportDiscus (Ebsco), and PsycINFO (ProQuest) up to November 2018.

Eligibility criteria for selecting studies Qualitative and quantitative original studies of elite athletes (those who competed at the professional, Olympic, or collegiate/university levels), published in any language.

Results Stigma, low mental health literacy, negative past experiences with mental health treatment-seeking, busy schedules, and hypermasculinity are barriers to elite athletes seeking mental health treatment. Cultural influencers of mental health in elite athletes include: (1) the lack of acceptance of women as athletes; (2) lower acceptability of mental health symptoms and disorders among non-white athletes; (3) non-disclosure of religious beliefs; and (4) higher dependence on economic benefits. Coaches have an important role in supporting elite athletes in obtaining treatment for mental illness. Brief anti-stigma interventions in elite athletes decrease stigma and improve literary about mental health.

Conclusion There is a need for various actors to provide more effective strategies to overcome the stigma that surrounds mental illness, increase mental health literacy in the athlete/coach community, and address athlete-specific barriers to seeking treatment for mental illness. In this systematic review, we identified strategies that, if implemented, can overcome the cultural factors that may otherwise limit athletes seeking treatment. Coaches are critical for promoting a culture within elite athletes’ environments that encourages athletes to seek treatment.

  • barriers
  • culture
  • athletes
  • mental health
  • stigma

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