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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Barriers and facilitators to mental health help-seeking for young elite athletes: a qualitative study

Amelia Gulliver*, Kathleen M Griffiths and Helen Christensen

Author Affiliations

Centre for Mental Health Research, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

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BMC Psychiatry 2012, 12:157  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-12-157

Published: 26 September 2012

Abstract

Background

Adolescents and young adults experience a high level of mental disorders, yet tend not to seek help. Research indicates that there are many barriers and facilitators to help-seeking for young people in the general community. However there are limited data available for young elite athletes. This study aims to determine what young elite athletes perceive as the barriers and facilitators to help-seeking for common mental health problems.

Methods

Fifteen elite athletes aged 16–23 years each participated in one of three focus group discussions. In addition to written data, verbal responses were audio taped, transcribed and thematically analysed.

Results

Participants’ written and verbal data suggested that stigma was the most important perceived barrier to seeking help for young elite athletes. Other notable barriers were a lack of mental health literacy, and negative past experiences of help-seeking. Facilitators to help-seeking were encouragement from others, having an established relationship with a provider, pleasant previous interactions with providers, the positive attitudes of others, especially their coach, and access to the internet.

Conclusions

Intervention strategies for improving help-seeking in young elite athletes should focus on reducing stigma, increasing mental health literacy, and improving relations with potential providers.