Professor Andy Smith has contributed to a new international consensus statement on mental health awareness in sport
Professor Andy Smith has contributed to a new international consensus statement on mental health awareness in sport

An Edge Hill University professor is one of a team of experts to produce an international consensus statement on mental health awareness in sport.

Professor Andy Smith, from the University’s Department of Sport and Physical Activity, was key in creating the consensus statement which creates a new framework for applying practices and analysing the impact of mental wellbeing in sport.

The internationally-recognised study, published in the BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine  journal, has created minimum guidelines for the use of mental health initiatives in sporting environments to increase understanding of the links between sporting participation and improved mental health.

Prof. Smith said: “Although there is growing national and international interest in the relationship between sport and mental health, much of this has focused on elite sport and comparatively less attention has been given to the mental health needs of the general population in local communities.

“Developing guidelines for the implementation and evaluation of programmes in a non-elite context, as well as in elite sport, are therefore crucial because it is at non-elite levels of sport where mental health is a significant public health concern.

“The concensus statement represents an important development because it not only emphasizes the need to focus on determining effective reporting of mental health awareness and implementation programmes at all levels of sport and for participants, but also emphasizes the need to focus on all types of sports workers including coaches, managers, support staff, administrators and officials.

“This broader focus is necessary to increase the effective implementation, translation and evaluation of mental health programmes which have significant potential to benefit population health.”

10 countries were involved in the development of the statement and it is expected that the work will help guide mental health intervention design for players, coaches, officials and sporting organisations, both in elite and non-elite fields.

The framework provides evidence-based guidance for selecting mental health awareness and implementation programmes in sport which acknowledge diversity and are quality assured at all stages.

Lead author of the study, Dr Gavin Breslin from Ulster University, said: “Research on mental health in sport has lagged behind other areas of mental health support and has revealed the need to develop evidence-supported mental health practices that are sensitive to sport culture, for both elite and non-elite athletes.

“This international consensus statement was produced to assist effective development of mental health awareness programmes in sport and guide effective implementation in this rapidly emerging field.

“Guidelines for implementation and evaluation of mental health programmes in a non-elite sporting context are crucial due to the vast participation of sports at all levels in Northern Ireland and beyond.

“We firmly believe that all participants across the life course of sport will benefit from supporting mental health optimisation.”

Prof Smith’s work on the consensus statement is part of a wider programme of sport and mental health work carried out at Edge Hill University.

The Sport and Physical Activity Workforce Mental Health Survey is the first nationwide study of mental health in the sport and physical activity workforce and the Everton in the Community Partnership aims to use the power of sport to motivate, educate and inspire people in local communities to live healthier lifestyles.

An MSc in Sport, Physical Activity and Mental Health is available as a one-year full-time or two-year part-time course within the Department of Sport and Physical Activity at Edge Hill University.