There is an increasing awareness that mental health conditions can impact anyone, including elite football players. This week’s FastFact highlights a paper from the International Olympic Committee that introduces a tool that can be used to help identify elite players who may be at risk of mental health symptoms or disorders.1
The International Olympic Committee commissioned an expert panel to review the evidence relating to mental illness among elite athletes. This was summarised and published in the IOC consensus statement on mental health in elite athletes.2 One of the outcomes from this meeting was to form an expert group tasked with producing screening tools that could be used to help with the identification of athletes who may be at risk of developing, or who are experiencing, a mental health condition. The development of these tools involved a review of the available scientific literature, input from elite athletes (and their entourage) and input from a variety of medical experts. As a result of this process two screening tools have been developed, one for use by health professionals and one for use by athletes and their support networks.
The Sport Mental Health Assessment Tool 1 (SMHAT-1) has been developed for sport and exercise medicine physicians and other health professionals to assess elite athletes (defined as professional, Olympic, Paralympic or collegiate level; aged 16 years and older) potentially at risk for or already experiencing mental health symptoms and disorders. The tool has three components. The first part is a general triage tool, the second involves six disorder-specific screening tools (for example the GAD-7 for symptoms of anxiety) and the third a clinical assessment by a sport and exercise medicine physician or licensed/registered mental health professional (eg, psychiatrist and psychologist).
Since the athletes’ entourage (friends, fellow athletes, family and coaches) were identified as important supports for an athlete’s mental health, a second tool, the International Olympic Committee Sport Mental Health Recognition Tool 1 (SMHRT-1) was also developed. This tool has been developed for use by non-medical people. The SMHRT-1 attempts to identify significant and/or persistent thoughts, feelings, behaviours and/or physical changes among athletes. When these are identified the tool is designed to facilitate referral for appropriate support and treatment.
It is hoped that the use of these tools will help enable the identification of elite athletes at risk for experiencing mental health symptoms and disorders and ensure that they receive the support and treatment that they require. The SMHRT-1 could be easily incorporated into a preseason medical and could be repeated as needed throughout a season.
1. Gouttebarge V, Bindra A, Blauwet C, et al International Olympic Committee (IOC) Sport Mental Health Assessment Tool 1 (SMHAT-1) and Sport Mental Health Recognition Tool 1 (SMHRT-1): towards better support of athletes’ mental health British Journal of Sports Medicine Published Online First: 18 September 2020. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2020-102411
2. Reardon CL, Hainline B, Miller Aron C, et al. International Olympic Committee consensus statement on mental health in elite athletes. Br J Sports Med 2019;53:667–99