Sport and Mental Health

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Regular participation in sport and physical activity has a number of benefits. Researchers have shown that being active is linked with decreased obesity, decreases in certain forms of cancer, and increased cardiovascular fitness.

Increasingly, officials are also using sport as a way of reducing the risk of mental health problems.

This is an important connection considering that over a third of youth who experience mental health problems do not seek professional help. The figures are even higher for younger children. Many times, however, these same individuals are attracted to sport and physical activity. Thus, health officials see sport as a space to promote mental health and, where necessary, to offer interventions.

Available empirical evidence supports this approach. Exercise can help reduce depression, and sport participation is associated with reduced risk of suicidal ideation.

Beyond these interventions, how do large sport organizations promote mental health? This was the question asked by Sarah Kiddle, at the University of Wollongong in Australia, and her colleagues. They did so by examining the websites of national sport organizations in Australia.

Results showed that fewer than one in five national sport organizations had information about mental health or psychological factors. Even fewer had specific programs to address mental health problems. For those that did have such information, they presented it in a haphazard way that had a tenuous link with the sport organization’s mission.

Based on these results, the authors suggested that national sport organizations had the opportunity to do more to promote mental health. Given that these organizations focus is overall health promotion through sport, such initiatives would align well with their strategic aims.