Mental Health for High Performance Sport


Canadian Sport Institute Pacific believes the mental health of our athletes, coaches and staff is an important component of the high performance sport experience. We endeavor to continuously develop and support mental health awareness and interventions within the institute and with our sport partners.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, an increasing number of high performance athletes struggle with mental health issues such as eating disorders, substance abuse, anxiety or depression. Unfortunately, many of these athletes may feel that seeking help for mental or emotional problems may make them appear weak. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Mental health can be viewed on a continuum with resilience and thriving on one end of the spectrum and mental health disorders that disrupt an athlete’s, coach’s or staff’s functioning and performance at the other. Mental illness tends to rate the highest among young adults as this time of life can be full of development, life changes and environmental influences outside of sport and in addition genetic predisposition can also be a precursor to mental illness (

As reported in sport psychiatry research by Reardon and Factor (2010), appropriate diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in high performance athletes is critical for their careers and life. Therefore by reducing the stigma attached to mental illness and increasing awareness in the high performance sport population, we will ultimately help the athletes to help themselves, continue to work hard and perform at the highest level with enjoyment.

The NCAA sport science institute reports “mental and physical health are inextricably linked… there is evidence supporting an elevated risk of injury among athletes who experience anxiety or depression, who abuse alcohol or who have an eating disorder…and the psychological response to injury has the potential to exacerbate existing vulnerabilities to depression or anxiety, substance abuse or disordered eating behaviours… insomnia and sleep disorders can also be an indicator or risk factor for mental health challenges”.

It is important to recognize that in the context of high performance sport, the risk of mental injury is and always will be present, similarly to the risk of physical injury. We must also recognize that the athlete environment is not ‘normal’, athletes experience circumstances, pressures and expectations that are very different from non-athletes. As a result, there can be a tendency to minimize apparent signs of weakness as well as an expectation to push through certain challenges to be the fitter, stronger and improving athlete all the time.

Mental health is a key aspect of our athlete, coaches and staff wellness and performance. Our high performance sport environment can help promote mental health, destigmatize mental health challenges, normalize seeking care, help with early identification of a mental health disorder and ensure all receive care from appropriate licensed practitioners. It support of this CSIPacific with partnering National Sport Organizations encourage the development of a mental health protocol to ensure the appropriate guidelines for mental health support are in place.

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The aim of Mental Health for High Performance Sport is to provide information, resources and guidelines to increase awareness of mental health in high performance sport in Canada.

Research findings as well as documented examples of chronic anxiety, depression and even suicide within the world of high performance sport are quite telling. There is a need for better acknowledgment and understanding of these conditions and respect for seeking help on part of both the individual as well as the people around the individual (i.e., coach, support staff and NSO). It is also widely recognized that there is a lack of research to fully support mental health information as it pertains to the sport environment and more research is needed on all psychiatric disorders in athletes (Reardon and Factor, 2010).

In an effort to raise awareness and understanding mental health in high performance sport, the purpose of this information is to provide information that will meet the following objectives:

Objective 1

Increase awareness of mental health problems in high performance sport and be better informed for early identification of mental health problems.

Objective 2

Increase awareness and understanding of the short and long-term impact of mental health issues for high performing athletes. Recognize the importance of implementing a return to ‘sport/work’ plan to avoid relapse.

Objective 3

Increase awareness of prevention strategies, and resources available for support and intervention.

Reardon, C.L. & Factor, R.M. (2010). Sport Psychiatry. A Systematic Review of Diagnosis and Medical Treatment of Mental Illness in Athletes. Sports Med,: 40 (11), 961-980.