Athlete mental health help-seeking: A systematic review and meta-analysis of rates, barriers and facilitators

S. M. Cosh*, D. G. McNeil, A. Jeffreys, Laura Clark, P. J. Tully

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Athletes are vulnerable to a range of mental health symptoms, in part due to stressors within the sport environment. An early intervention framework suggests the benefits of routine screening and referral for mental health, however, greater understanding around athlete help-seeking is needed to support referral uptake. This review examined rates of formal help-seeking behaviour as well as barriers and facilitators to help-seeking in sport settings. Relevant studies were retrieved from SportDiscus, PubMed and PsycInfo, with unpublished studies identified through contacting authors. Help-seeking rates were meta-analysed and barriers and facilitators were meta-synthesised. Twenty-two studies were included. Help-seeking rates were reported in 11 studies (N = 3415) and the pooled proportion of help-seeking was 22.4 % (95 % CI 16.2–30.2, I2 = 95.7 %). Barriers were reported in 13 studies and facilitators in six, highlighting a range of sporting-specific factors, such as stigma in relation to athlete identity and sport culture, fear of deselection, and concerns around confidentiality in sport settings, in addition to lack of awareness, low mental health literacy, and negative attitudes to services. Normalising experiences of mental health in sport settings, including through role models, was a key facilitator to help-seeking. Results provide implications for sport organisations to promote help-seeking and athlete mental health, such as through the use of role models, ensuring clarity around confidentiality, stigma reduction interventions, and fostering team cultures that promote mental health. Findings also support the value of sport staff in facilitating help-seeking, and organisational culture changes to foster wellbeing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102586
Number of pages15
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Early online date19 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2024

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