The Growing Importance of Mental Health in Sport

Earlier this month the UK celebrated Mental Health Awareness Week, which saw the topic receiving a lot of media attention. It was great to see sport featured heavily in the coverage, as there remains uneasiness in discussing mental health within the industry – both at elite and grassroots level.

For me, one of the most poignant moments during the week was seeing footballers Danny Rose and Peter Crouch open up about their own battles with mental health during a BBC interview. In a candid conversation Rose said he had been labelled as “crazy” by club officials due to his depression. Crouch, meanwhile, described how he used to cry at night after struggling with his body image.

Seeing players of Rose’s and Crouch’s calibre discuss their issues with such directness can go a long way in demystifying the issues around depression and mental health – and make the topic less of a taboo for anyone working in sport. This is important, because Crouch and Rose aren’t alone. Over the years, a handful of elite athletes have discussed their battles with mental health. But for everyone who has had the courage to speak out, there is a long line of those who suffer in silence.

It isn’t just elite athletes we should worry about, either.

Our very own sector often works to tight deadlines and even tighter budgets. Sports and play facilities are, by definition, challenging to deliver. Sites often prove more testing than first expected, weather can play havoc with planned works and budgets can reveal themselves to be optimistic due to unexpected costs or fluctuating prices.

These issues – mixed with the requirement to create safe facilities to exact specifications and to the clients’ expectations – can at times create both external and internal pressures for companies. These, in turn, can then lead to stress and tensions within the workforce, affecting the mental health of everyone involved in the project.

As industry leaders in what we do, it is at those times – when faced with challenges – that we should be mindful of the potential effects the strain of a difficult project can place on people’s mental health. For employers, this is particularly important, as they have, by law, a duty of care for their employees – and that includes both physical and mental health.

Disclosing mental health issues is not the easiest thing. Therefore it’s essential that we, as a sector, facilitate and support open and honest communication around the topic.

I hope we can create the space and time and, like the rest of our industry, take this issue seriously. Next year, hopefully, SAPCA will join the rest of the sport sector and take part in Mental Health Awareness Week.

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