Leading Manx athletes will have increased support in managing their mental health thanks to a partnership through Isle of Man Sport Aid.
Elite sport can be incredibly demanding, and research suggests certain factors such as injury or deselection can increase the risk of athletes developing depression and anxiety.
Teaming up with a number of partners to encourage the athletes it supports to discuss their feelings before they get worse, Isle of Man Sport Aid (IoMSA) is focusing on prevention and early intervention. The project has been informed by athletes, coaches, parents, and mental health specialists through a new steering group. It has also taken academic research and a bespoke athlete survey into consideration.
That survey showed the need for athletes to have access to an independent and confidential emotional support service and local psychology support, which will happen in the first phase of IoMSA’s mental health strategy. The second phase will focus on education and how identifying signs early and understanding how to support someone can help prevent poor mental health developing.
Paul Jones, Sports Performance Coordinator for Sport Aid, said: ‘High-performing athletes operate under extreme pressure which leaves them vulnerable to poor mental health. By spotting signs early and having access to the right tools and support we hope to help our athletes manage difficult feelings and reach their peak performance levels. By partnering with some fantastic organisations, we will be able to make a real difference.’
Race walker Erika Kelly, has represented the island at the Commonwealth Games, and works for a mental health charity.
She added: ‘Seeking help at an early stage is vital to minimise the risk of mental health and wellbeing declining further, and the simple actions of trusting someone enough to speak out can have powerfully beneficial effects.
‘The last year has been full of challenges – I have personally found that limited opportunities to compete for almost 18 months, due to races being cancelled and the inability to travel due to restrictions, very difficult. It led to huge losses in confidence despite training going well, and significant feelings of concern going into my first race this year – the 2021 Olympic trials. The opportunity to sit down and talk through these thoughts and feelings with dedicated support staff was game-changing and invaluable towards getting me standing back on a start line, feeling excited and ready to race.’
Details of the strategy, training, and a library of resources will be provided on the Sport Aid website.