Professional team athletes experience a range of mental health problems, both sports and non-sports related. However, there is limited information available for those charged with responsibility for managing these mental health conditions, particularly within the context of professional sporting clubs. This paper reports on consensus findings from a study of club doctors, who are primary care providers for professional team athletes within a specific code, the Australian Football League (AFL). Drawing on findings from a systematic literature search, a two-round Delphi procedure was used to develop a consensus on best practice for managing mental health conditions for club doctors as primary care providers for professional team athletes. Participants in this study were current and former club doctors employed in professional AFL clubs across Australia, with 28 doctors participating across two survey rounds. Overall, 77 statements were presented, with 50 endorsed as essential or important by ≥ 80% of the participants across the two rounds. Primary themes across nine domains include: (1) Prevention and Mental Health Promotion Activities; (2) Screening; (3) Engaging External Specialists; (4) Duty of Care; (5) Treatment: Assessment, Treatment and Case Coordination; (6) Communication; (7) Confidentiality; (8) Sleep Management and (9) Substance Use Management. This study is the first to offer club doctors working in professional team settings consensus guidelines for the management of mental health conditions, and the opportunity for greater clarification and consistency in role delivery.
- consensus statement
- Australian football
- sports and exercise medicine
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Contributors Conceptualisation: BW, KH and EMC; methodology: BW, KH and EMC; formal analysis: JB and EMC; investigation: BW, EMC, KH and TC, RM: data curation: JB and EMC; writing—original draft preparation: EMC, BW, JB; writing—review and editing, BW, EMC, JB, KH, TC and RM; supervision, KH and RM; project administration, EMC; funding acquisition: BW and EMC. All authors have read and agreed to the submitted version of the manuscript.
Funding This study was supported with funding from the AFL’s Research Board and participant engagement was facilitated through the AFLDA.
Competing interests KH and RM were employed by the AFL as the Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing (KH) and AFL Chief Psychiatrist (RM) during this study, and have no other conflicts of interest to report. BW and TC are present and past medical doctors (respectively) at football clubs within the AFL competition, and have no other conflicts of interest to report. EMC and JB have no conflicts of interest to declare relevant to this paper. As such, only JB and EMC had access to the raw data and analyses to minimise any conflicts due to the roles of AFL staff and club staff.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.