Sport and Mental Health - A Double-Edged Sword?

There is no question that social media, sport, and mental health are all hugely prevalent in today’s society. Statistics, awareness campaigns and general browsing of each topic throws up a huge quantity of content. Yet, the link between the three is a potentially sad and dangerous one.

Here are just a few findings:

  • Mental Health problems account for the largest single source of disability in the UK at 23% (Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine UK)

  • Suicide continues to be the number one cause of death for men in the UK, between the ages of 15 – 35. (Office of National Statistics, 2018)

  • Over a 3rd of adults surveyed by YouGov in 2018 said they felt anxious or depressed because of their body image.

  • Exercise has a profound and lasting positive effect on the depression, anxiety, PTSD/trauma, and ADHD. (Robinson 2019)

Sport and the positive effects.

With amazing campaigns such as #liftingthelid #mentalhealthawareness #manup and #endthestigma, mental health has become an ever more accepting concept within the world of sport. The positive effects of exercise on mental health is publicised in a greater capacity and thus recognised in the mainstream of society. Doctors are even prescribing exercise over medication when it comes to certain cases of depression, anxiety, PTSD and ADHD.

There is no question that exercise and sport is fundamental in improving people’s mental and physical well-being, and personally I could not be happier to see sport participation growing at an alarming rate year on year. Not only is this good for the nation’s health, but also for the nation’s talent pool of elite level athletes.

However, unfortunately all positive actions come with their negative reactions.

  • The more people partaking in sport and exercise, the more social media content is created

  • The more content, the more susceptible you are to being exposed to a ‘picture perfect’ ideal

  • The more ‘perfect’ everything seems, the more mental health can be affected

Sport and the negative by-product.

Exercise and sport does come with its downfalls and this is where mental health can actually be negatively affected. Below are only some of the reasons:

  • Obsessive dietary and/or physical training, leading to an extreme body image.

  • Depressive and/or anxious feelings due to the unobtainable image.

  • Stress amounts when competition is involved – can you compete and succeed?

  • Withdrawal from sport due to injury, commitments, affordability, etc – often leads to depression and self-awareness problems.

Professional athletes are indeed aiding in the awareness of such issues, however we still have a long way to go. Whether an athlete competes at an amateur level, the following are some reasons why it can be hard to speak up.

  1. Athletes fear that publically opening up to mental health could negatively affect performance.

  2. An athlete’s public image could be tainted.

  3. They fear peer judgement and its effect on the hierarchy within a team

  4. Being perceived as weak by competitors and peers alike.

  5. Sponsorship deals amounting to substantial parts of an athlete’s income could be negatively affected.


Sport, its ambassadors, and the corporations thriving in the industry, all need to continue to enhance the awareness of mental health issues. Sport and exercise will hopefully continue to grow, and with it, however the unfortunate fact is that mental health will inevitably grow along side it.

What we as a society of grammers, bloggers, facebookers, tweeters, snapcahtters, etc need to accomplish is this:

  1. Embrace a variation of body types and create aesthetically pleasing content for all

  2. Identify and encourage the speaking out of mental health when a person needs it

  3. Continue to grow the support structure for mental health issues

  4. Remove the taboo of mental health in and outside of sport. A mental health issue should be treated much like a physical injury and treated as such.

Amazing work is already being done by organisations, please check them out for more information and how you can become more aware:

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