UU develops sport-related mental health guidelines

  • A new international study by Ulster University has created minimum guidelines for the use of mental health initiatives in sporting environments.

    The study’s aim is to increase the understanding of the links between sporting participation and improved mental health, and is in the form of a consensus statement published in the BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine.

    10 countries were involved in its development and the university expects that the work will help guide mental health intervention design, both in elite and non-elite fields.

    The framework provides evidence-based guidance for selecting mental health awareness and implementation programmes in sport which acknowledge diversity and are quality assured at all stages.

    One of the study's objectives is to determine minimal competencies of training for those involved in sport to support mental health, those experiencing mental illness and when to refer to mental health professionals.

    The research is hoped to inform the actions from the Wellbeing in Sport Action Plan for Northern Ireland and inform sporting associations in other countries of the process of developing such plans to protect their athletes’ wellbeing.

    For example, a review of current policy related to community sport, physical activity and mental health in England concluded that measurable and specific targets for tracking positive change related to mental health and illness have not been outlined in much government policy.

    Project lead, Dr Gavin Breslin is a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Ulster University. He commented:“Research on mental health in sport has lagged behind other areas of mental health support, and has revealed the need to develop evidence-supported mental health practices that are sensitive to sport culture.

    “Guidelines for implementation and evaluation of mental health programmes in a non-elite sporting context are crucial due to the vast participation of sports at all levels in Northern Ireland and beyond. We firmly believe that all participants across the life course of sport will benefit from supporting mental health optimisation.”

    The statement’s key design principles include choice of psychological behaviour change theory, target populations, stakeholder involvement and delivery sites, outcomes to measure programme effectiveness and methods for conducting and reporting interventions with sporting population groups (e.g. coaches, athletes and officials).

    The study is a collaboration between researchers in Ulster University, Edge Hill University, University of Nevada, University of Wollongong, Southern Cross University, AECC University College and the Gaelic Athletic Association and Cognacity.

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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