Preparation and selection for the Olympics and Paralympics alone causes a significant amount of stress for those competing, then throw in COVID-19 and the uncertainty around the Games and it’s hard to imagine how our sportsmen and women are coping.
- The AIS established the Mental Health Referral Network, which now sees 54 practitioners offering support to almost 3,000 people
- They also created more than 30 athlete wellbeing and engagement managers across national sporting organisations
- Olympic gold medal swimmers Leisel Jones and Jodie Henry are among those coordinators
A mental health audit, undertaken by the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) last year, of nearly 700 athletes, coaches and support staff showed that almost half of the athletes were dealing with anxiety and stress due to the Games’ postponement.
This year, the AIS’s mental heath referral network (MHRN) has seen an increase of 79 per cent since this time last year, and have received as many referrals in March 2021 as they did in January and February combined.
AIS chief executive Peter Conde said the figures are not of great concern as there are 54 mental health practitioners providing confidential support, in areas of psychology, psychiatry, neuropsychology and nutrition, across the country to athletes and staff.
“It has been an extended wait for these Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and excitement is no doubt building as the Games countdown continues. It’s natural, however, that there will also be anxiety given the unique and complex preparation for these Games as well as the shifting environments here and abroad,” Conde said.
“In fact, we can be assured that people are increasingly aware of this valuable service and are reaching out more often, as and when they need it. We also need to acknowledge some sports and teams are now adopting it as a regular check-in for their athletes and staff.
“It’s encouraging that most of the referrals are now coming in via the athlete wellbeing and engagement managers embedded in the sports, which is a great endorsement for this valuable network.”
The network expanded when COVID-19 hit last year and is now available to almost 3,000 people in Australian high-performance sport, including athletes, coaches, support staff and even family members of athletes.
The AIS has also created positions for more than 30 Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement Managers in national sporting organisations, who directly support athletes with their welfare and professional development.
Olympic gold medal swimmers Leisel Jones and Jodie Henry have stepped into those roles, with Jones working across Athletics Australia and Henry with Swimming Australia.
Jones hopes passing on her knowledge will assist in other athletes being able to navigate their way through the ups and downs of elite sport.
“I’m just really passionate about working with athletes and sharing some of the things that I may have learned throughout my career,” Jones said.
“I think it’s really important to have happy athletes, because when you have happy, balanced athletes, they’re the ones who usually perform really well.
With the Olympics less than 100 days away, Henry says a positive she has seen is that players are willing to discuss what they’re going through rather than letting it bottle up inside.
“There’s a lot of unknowns and that’s going to be the biggest challenge of these Games. But there is support and one of the encouraging things I’ve noticed in this role is the openness of current athletes to discuss their feelings,” Henry said.
“Talking to someone can make all the difference.”