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Understanding Mental Health Help-Seeking in Athletes

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

What does help-seeking for mental health difficulties look like in athletes?

Kirsty Brown, a Masters by Research student in the SPRINT Project, set out to explore this by creating a protocol for a scoping review of scientific studies that have looked at this question.

Why is this topic important?

3 key issues tell us why it is important to better understand the scientific evidence about help-seeking in athletes:

1. Access

Athletes report poor access to mental health services as well as not knowing how to access them.

2. Attitudes

Stigma is a recognised barrier to mental health help-seeking and athletes may be less likely to seek help than non-athletes.

3. Experiences

Negative past experiences of help-seeking may decrease the likelihood of an athlete seeking help for their mental health. However, positive experiences may increase the likelihood of help-seeking.

By understanding these issues together in detail with a scoping review, Kirsty’s goal is to find out how best to improve mental health services for athletes and provide suggestions for future research.


How do researchers complete a scoping review of scientific studies?

To complete the scoping review, Kirsty used a framework created by Arksey and O’Malley (2005). This had 6 main stages:

1. Decide on the research question

Look at previous studies to find out what you would like to know.

2. Find scientific studies

Complete online searches in scientific databases based on the research question.

3. Determine which scientific studies are relevant

Screen the studies found in the online searches to work out if they are relevant to the research question.

4. Get the data from the relevant scientific studies

Extract the data from the studies that passed the screening checks.

5. Create & present overall findings from the data

Break the overall findings down into chunks or clusters of useful information (e.g., different sources of available mental health support).

6. Discuss findings with the public and/or patients

Find out if the findings resonate with student athletes – what are their views and how can this shape future research?


What are the next steps?

Kirsty is currently completing and writing her scoping review. Watch this space for a future blog on the important findings!


You can read Kirsty’s full protocol here, which is published in the British Medical Journal, Open.

Kirsty also recently spoke to Doctor Radio hosts Dr Dennis Cardone and Dr Cordelia Carter from the USA. She talked about athlete mental health and her scoping review protocol. Kirsty said it was a great experience!


Scroll down to subscribe to our blog and find out more about Kirsty’s and other SPRINT Project members work here.



Arksey, H., & O’Malley, L. (2005). Scoping studies: towards a methodological framework. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 8(1).

Brown, K. R., Quinton, M. L., Tidmarsh, G., & Cumming, J. (2023). Athletes’ access to, attitudes towards and experiences of help-seeking for mental health: a scoping review protocol. BMJ Open, 13:e062279.

Castaldelli-Maia, J. M., e Gallinaro, J. G. D. M., Falcão, R. S., Gouttebarge, V., Hitchcock, M. E., Hainline, B., ... & Stull, T. (2019). Mental health symptoms and disorders in elite athletes: a systematic review on cultural influencers and barriers to athletes seeking treatment. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53(11), 707-721.

Giovannetti, S. L., Robertson, J. R., Colquhoun, H. L., & Malachowski, C. K. (2019). Mental health services for Canadian university student-athletes: An exploratory survey. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 13(3), 469-485.

Gulliver, A., Griffiths, K. M., & Christensen, H. (2010). Perceived barriers and facilitators to mental health help-seeking in young people: a systematic review. BMC Psychiatry, 10(1), 1-9.


Photo credit: Canva.

Written by Dr Sally Reynard, Research Associate in the SPRINT Project.

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