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Minds matter: how COVID-19 highlighted a growing need to protect and promote athlete mental health
  1. Vincent Gouttebarge1,2,3,
  2. Abhinav Bindra4,
  3. Jonathan A Drezner5,
  4. Nonhlanhla Mkumbuzi6,
  5. Jon Patricios7,
  6. Ashwin Rao5,
  7. Jane S Thornton8,
  8. Andrew Watson9,
  9. Claudia L Reardon10
  1. 1 Amsterdam UMC location University of Amsterdam, Dpt of Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  2. 2 Section Sports Medicine, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
  3. 3 Amsterdam Collaboration on Health & Safety in Sports (ACHSS), AMC/VUmc IOC Research Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  4. 4 Athletes’ Commission, International Olympic Committee, Lausanne, Switzerland
  5. 5 Department of Family Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA
  6. 6 NtombiSport (PTY) Ltd, Cape Town, South Africa
  7. 7 Wits Sport and Health (WiSH), School of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg-Braamfontein, South Africa
  8. 8 Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic, Department of Family Medicine, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada
  9. 9 Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
  10. 10 Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
  1. Correspondence to Prof Vincent Gouttebarge, Dpt. of Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine, Amsterdam University Medical Centres, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; v.gouttebarge{at}

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The Sports and Exercise Medicine community and other sport stakeholders are becoming increasingly aware of the mental health symptoms (eg, depression, anxiety, substance misuse) reported by athletes. In 2019, this led to the publication of the first International Olympic Committee (IOC) consensus statement on mental health in this cohort and the establishment of the IOC Mental Health Working Group.1 Over the past 2 years, the COVID-19 pandemic and related public health measures have presented additional challenges to the well-being of all populations, including athletes. This editorial reflects on how the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a growing need to protect and promote athlete mental health.

Athlete mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

Mental health symptoms are common among professional, Olympic/Paralympic and collegiate athletes, with prevalence rates (15%–35%) equivalent to or exceeding those of non-athletes.1 Mental health symptoms are also common among youth and adolescent athletes, with a prevalence of up to one-third in some samples.2 Recent epidemiological evidence collected during the COVID-19 pandemic suggests increased rates of mental health symptoms among athletes during lockdown.3 In professional football (soccer), the prevalence of anxiety and depression doubled during the COVID-19 emergency period compared with immediately prior in both females (N=600; 18% vs 8% for anxiety) and males (N=1309; 13% vs 6% for depression).4 A significant difference was also found in US professional …

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  • Twitter @vgouttebarge, @DreznerJon, @jonpatricios, @badash13, @janesthornton

  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it published Online First. An acknowledgement statement has been added.

  • Contributors VG and CLR conceptualised and drafted the initial version of the manuscript, with critical review provided by all authors. All authors read and approved the final version of the manuscript.

  • 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 VG is Chair of the IOC Mental Health Working Group. JD, JP and JST are editors of the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Claudia Reardon is co-chair of the IOC Consensus Group on Mental Health in Elite Sport.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.