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Breaking a taboo: why the International Olympic Committee convened experts to develop a consensus statement on mental health in elite athletes
  1. Brian Hainline1,
  2. Claudia L Reardon2
  1. 1Sport Science Institute, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
  2. 2Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Brian Hainline, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Indianapolis, IN 46206, USA; bhainline{at}ncaa.org

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Mental health symptoms and disorders are ubiquitous in society and are too often underdiagnosed and undermanaged—or worse, ignored. We speak of mental health symptoms and disorders as if they are somehow separate from other ‘physical’ symptoms, injuries and illnesses. Mental health symptoms and disorders and other physical symptoms, injuries and illnesses are intertwined yet artificially separated by diagnostic criteria that perpetuate a mind–body dualism. This dualism ignores brain circuits and the human being. Although clinicians are constrained to work within the current established criteria for mental health symptoms and disorders, they must also be mindful of a broader interconnectedness: mental health symptoms and disorders increase the risk of injury, delay recovery following injury and impair athletic performance, while injury and poor athletic performance often trigger mental health symptoms and disorders, especially depression and anxiety.1–10 Physiology and perception are one.

Elite athletes are not unbreakable

Even though elite athletes live in a culture of being ‘tough’ and ‘looking fit’, they suffer from many mental health symptoms and disorders at rates similar to those of the general population.11 12 The incidence of eating disorders and some substance use disorders in elite athletes exceed those in the general population.13–23 Sport-specific stressors and environmental factors, including psychological, physical or sexual abuse,24 injury,25 barriers to mental …

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Footnotes

  • Contributors This editorial accompanies the IOC consensus statement on mental health in elite athletes, and also serves as an Executive Summary.

  • 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 None declared.

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

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

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