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AIS Record 79% Increase In Demand For Mental Health Support

T
he Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) has revealed the demand for mental health support has risen by 79% at the start of 2021 compared to the same period last year.

The AIS said the impact of COVID-19 was the primary or secondary issue in about 80% of referrals for the AIS Mental Health Referral Network (MHRN), with Games preparation and selection, work stress, and general wellbeing also named key themes.

The MHRN has received as many referrals in March 2021 as were received in January and February combined, with an AIS Mental Health Audit revealing almost one-in-two athletes of almost 700 athletes, coaches, and support staff in 2020 were dealing with anxiety and stress due to the postponement of the Olympics.

In revealing the information, AIS CEO, Peter Conde, said in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, athletes and sport staff are encouraged to prioritise mental health and wellbeing and seek support if needed.

“It has been an extended wait for these Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and excitement is no doubt building as the Games countdown continues,” Conde said.

“It’s natural, however, that there will also be anxiety given the unique and complex preparation for these Games as well as the shifting environments here and abroad.

“There has been a rise in people reaching out to the AIS Mental Health Referral Network, but that doesn’t need to be cause for alarm.

“In fact, we can be assured that people are increasingly aware of this valuable service and are reaching out more often, as and when they need it.

“We also need to acknowledge some sports and teams are now adopting it as a regular check-in for their athletes and staff.

“It’s encouraging that most of the referrals are now coming in via the Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement managers embedded in the sports, which is a great endorsement for this valuable network,” he said.

There are currently more than 30 Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement managers across national sporting organisations, including Olympic gold medal swimmers, Leisel Jones, and Jodie Henry.

Speaking on the impact of the role, Jones said: “I’m just really passionate about working with athletes and sharing some of the things that I may have learned throughout my career.”

“I think it’s really important to have happy athletes, because when you have happy, balanced athletes, they’re the ones who usually perform really well.

“When things are going well in life outside of sport, everything else seems to fall into place,” Jones said.