Prevention of mental illness begins with our sport community, which includes National Sport Organizations, Canadian Sport Institutes, Multi-Sport Organizations, Coaching Associations and other professionals servicing high performance athletes.

To create a high performance sport environment that is psychologically safe and healthy, as defined by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the following needs must be met:

  • Psychological Safety: a psychologically safe workplace is one where every reasonable effort is made to protect the mental health of workers.
  • Psychological Health: a psychologically healthy workplace is one where every reasonable effort is made to promote the mental health of workers.

The Canadian high performance sport system should aim to embrace psychological safety, health and resilience in the daily training and competition environments to provide a successful, sustainable and value-driven place of work for athletes, coaches and staff.

National Sport Organizations and Canadian Sport Institutes across Canada may consider a specific model that fits with their current philosophy and tiered approach in classifying athlete support services. Key strategies could include:

  1. Mental Performance Consultants utilize assessment tools such as the MCS-SP with each carded athlete in order to implement appropriate mental training interventions as well as for accurate conceptualization and interventions for subclinical psychological dysfunction
    1. When a mental illness injury occurs, a tiered approach must be utilized due to financial limitations. A tiered approach is a realistic balance of responsibilities between the National Sport Organization and the individual athlete. For example:
      • Tier I athletes receive full team services in managing the mental illness. Outside financial resources and support will be funded for a maximum of $500.
      • Tier II athletes receive full team services in managing the mental illness. Outside financial resources and support will be funded for a maximum of $300. Upon completion of the appropriate mental health practitioner sessions (i.e., registered psychologist, registered clinical counsellor or [sport] psychiatrist), the athlete is then responsible for the financial payment of subsequent services and/or can be referred to existing support resources.
  2. A return to sport protocol will require the athlete to communicate with the appropriate sport leaders (HPD, Coach, Mental Performance Consultant, Team Physician, etc.) so that the athlete is set up for success. Returning to the training environment may not be permitted until the team physician and/or Mental Performance Consultant has communicated directly with the athlete and concludes the athlete is fit to return to training and competition.

There is also the need for increased knowledge, awareness and communication of the services available to athletes, coaches and staff within our sport system such as mental performance consultants, registered psychologists and counselors as well as career advice and transition support through the Game Plan program.

In efforts to support awareness and prevention of mental illness in high performance sport, it is recommended that all service providers who liaise with athletes and coaches on a regular basis complete the Mental Health First Aid course or equivalent to gain an understanding of the signs and symptoms of mental health problems, available resources and appropriate referral processes. Service providers could include:

  • Mental Performance Consultants (MPCs)
  • Coaches
  • Sport Science and Medicine Practitioners
  • Athlete Career Transition Advisors and Athlete Services Personnel
  • High Performance Managers & Directors

Mental Health First Aid is offered by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. The two-day course is offered at locations across Canada. Details on upcoming courses and fees can be found at

What to do if an athlete approaches you about his or her mental health concern

  1. Be approachable – their approach indicates a need to talk
  2. Give total attention and listen
  3. Ask clarifying questions – not judgmental such as ‘are you thinking of hurting yourself’ or ‘do you have a plan’
  4. Indicate you want to help and ask if there is anything they need
  5. Make a referral – know the limits of your role
  6. Refer the athlete to the Mental Performance Consultant or Team Physician

If the athlete prefers to meet with a professional, encourage them to seek help from another Mental Performance Consultant, their family physician, clinical counsellor, registered psychologist or psychiatrist*.

*Requires a doctor’s referral