What did we learn about elite student athlete mental health systems from the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Kaitlin Simpson*, Graham Baker, Debbie Palmer, Grant Jarvie, Emily Cameron-Blake, Paul Kelly

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Elite student-athletes (SAs) in higher education (HE) have distinct mental health (MH) risks. The COVID-19 pandemic put pressure on systems and increased elite SA vulnerability to adverse MH outcomes.

The aim of this study was to explore the provision and management of MH in elite HE sports settings during the time of COVID-19 pandemic stress. The secondary aim was to identify lessons and opportunities to enhance future mental healthcare systems and services for elite SAs.

A qualitative study design was used to investigate the views of three groups (athletic directors, coaches, and sport healthcare providers). Ten key leaders were purposively recruited from HE institutions in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. They represented various universities from the National College Athletic Association, U SPORTS Canada, and British Universities and Colleges Sport. Semi-structured interviews were conducted, recorded, transcribed, and thematically analysed.

Five key themes were identified: (i) There were highly variable impacts and responses to the disruption of elite student sport (ii) When student sport systems are under pressure, support staff perceive a change in duties and experience their own mental health challenges, (iii) The pandemic increased awareness about MH care provision and exposed systemic challenges, (iv) Digital Transformation in MH is complex and has additional challenges for SAs, and (v) There were some positive outcomes of pandemic, lessons learned, and a resulting motivation for systems change. Participants highlighted future opportunities for mental health provision in elite university sport settings. Four recommendations were generated from the results.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Sports Medicine
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 14 Feb 2024

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • sport
  • mental Health
  • elite athletes
  • universities
  • international


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