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The impact of mental health symptoms and disorders in elite athletes is increasingly recognised. This led the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to produce a consensus statement1 and establish a Mental Health Working Group. Members of this group have extensive experience in research and practice in the field of athlete mental health and have collectively ascertained gaps in current knowledge and practices. This editorial reflects the authors’ opinions and aims to provide researchers and practitioners with future directions relating to mental health symptoms and disorders in elite sport, focusing on prevalence/incidence, prevention, screening, assessment and treatment.
Prevalence and incidence
The prevalence studies that are currently available have significant limitations,2 including the lack of data distinguishing mental health symptoms from disorders. The latter require a clinical assessment accounting for the intense and unique demands athletes face, which influence how symptoms and disorders may manifest. An example is the presence of mental health symptoms in overtrained athletes, how these are understood from perspectives such as low energy availability or impaired immune function and where existing classification systems may be inadequate.
Studies are limited by the influence of stigma related to mental health symptoms and disorders both in and out of sporting contexts, which likely impact athletes’ responses and do not take account of additional barriers to reporting, specifically cultural barriers including sex, religion, …
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Contributors AC, CB, DM, MM, RP, MP, CLR, VG: substantial contribution to conception and design; acquisition, analysis and interpretation of data; drafting the work and revising it critically; agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work. AB, RB, NC, BH: substantial contribution to conception and design; interpretation of data; drafting the work and revising it critically; agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work.
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests MP wishes to declare the following: consulting fees from Major League Soccer (USA); participation on advisory board as senior advisor, NFL (USA), Head, Neck and Spine Committee; participation on advisory board as committee member, US Soccer Medical Advisory Committee; participation on advisory board as committee member, USOPC Mental Health Task Force. All authors are members of the IOC Mental Health Working Group.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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