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Mental health increasing priority for Australian athletes

31 January 2023

The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) has welcomed new research revealing more Australian high performance athletes are prioritising their mental health.

AIS Mental Fitness ambassador Caitlin Parker
22 high performance athletes including Australian boxer Caitlin Parker, have been appointed as 2023 AIS Mental Fitness ambassadors

The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) has welcomed new research revealing more Australian high performance athletes are prioritising their mental health.

The AIS Mental Health Audit, run by mental health research institute Orygen, showed 50 per cent of the 305 athletes who took part in the survey sought treatment in 2022, compared to just 39 per cent of participants in 2018.

The biennial survey also showed positive improvement in the mental health and wellbeing of high performance support staff and coaches, with 61 per cent of those who responded sharing that their sport setting is a safe place to disclose mental health problems.

AIS Acting Director Matti Clements said while it’s great to see the stigma of mental health improving across the sector, more support is needed in the prevention space.

“The Australian High Performance Sport system is united in the vision to win well, which means balancing ambitious performance goals with safe, fair and supportive cultures and ensuring that our athletes, coaches, and support staff win in all areas of life."

“The AIS Mental Health Referral Network is a key part of creating that environment of sustainable success. It has provided free, confidential advice and world-class services to more than 1,300 people since launching in 2018.

“There is still work to be done. The AIS Mental Health Audit showed more than a quarter of the athletes experienced anxiety or depression in 2022 and our priority is to ensure everyone in the high performance sport system receives help when they need it.”

As part of the commitment to improving mental health and wellbeing, the AIS has once again partnered with the Black Dog Institute to run the Mental Fitness Program, an initiative aimed at reducing rates of mental illness among young Australians.

Over the next six months, 22 high performance athletes, including Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games athletes, will become AIS Mental Fitness Ambassadors, sharing their personal stories and mental health strategies with thousands of high school students across the country.

Among the ambassadors is Australian bowls player and two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist Ellen Ryan, who said seeking help with her mental health changed the course of her career.

“In 2018 I just missed out on the team for the Commonwealth Games. The current team had been really successful internationally, and I just hadn’t been able to break in yet. For me I had worked so hard and sacrificed a lot. It made me not want to play anymore and I lost my confidence."

“With the support from my Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement Manager, the AIS Mental Health Referral Network and the support from my close friends and family, I was able to overcome the challenges I faced.”

Fellow AIS Mental Fitness Ambassador and Olympic rower Giorgia Patten said: “Members of the community and particularly young people look up to Olympic and Paralympic athletes and we are often perceived to be bulletproof."

“I believe it’s important for us athletes to show vulnerability and allow people to see that even some of their biggest sporting heroes have tough times. I’m determined to help educate as many young people as possible to build their mental resilience to life's challenges.”

The latest findings also echo the ASC’s latest AusPlay findings, with adults (ages 15 and up) becoming more active for mental health reasons. Over the last five years the number has increased from 16 per cent in 2017 to 31 per cent in 2022.

Schools interested in having an AIS Mental Fitness athlete ambassador visit can submit an online request here.

Those wishing to know more about the AIS Mental Health Referral Network can click here.

2023 AIS Mental Fitness Program athlete ambassadors:  

  • Aleisha Power, Hockey Australia, Perth
  • Caitlin Parker, CombatAUS/Boxing Australia, Melbourne
  • David Bryant, Triathlon Australia, Perth
  • Elizabeth Simms, Water Polo Australia, Sydney
  • Ellen Ryan, Bowls Australia, Goulburn
  • Emily Hamilton-Smith, Hockey Australia, Melbourne
  • Giorgia Patten, Rowing Australia, Sydney
  • Jack Cleary, Rowing Australia, Canberra
  • Jean van der Westhuyzen, Paddle Australia, Gold Coast
  • Laetisha Scanlan, Shooting Australia, Melbourne
  • Lily Alton Triggs, Rowing Australia, Brisbane
  • Matthew Glaetzer, AUSCycling, Adelaide  
  • Mitchell Larkin, Swimming Australia, Brisbane
  • Nathan Katz, Judo Australia/CombatAUS, Melbourne
  • Seve de Campo, Snow Australia, Canberra
  • Sian Whittaker, Swimming Australia, Melbourne
  • Sophie Jackson, Australian Sailing, Melbourne  
  • Stefanie Weiler, Volleyball Australia, Adelaide
  • Tamsin Cook, Swimming Australia, Melbourne  
  • Tegan Reder, Swimming Australia, Perth
  • Zana Evans, Snow Australia, Jindabyne
  • Zoe Vorenas, Equestrian Australia, Melbourne
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