The Australian Institute of Sport is encouraging athletes and their support networks to continue reaching out for help as the AIS meets unprecedented demand for its mental health support services.
In a positive step to support even more Olympic athletes, past and present, the AIS and Australian Olympic Committee have also signed a Memorandum of Understanding that will increase accessibility to the AIS Mental Health Referral Network.
The countdown to the Tokyo Games has corresponded with an increase in referrals to the AIS Mental Health Referral Network. There have been 206 referrals to the AIS Mental Health Referral Network in 2021, including 61 in May – the highest in one month since the support service began in 2018. AIS Director of People Development and Wellbeing Matti Clements said the AIS had never had a greater focus on supporting athlete mental health and wellbeing.
“It’s completely understandable that nerves and anxiety will grow in the build-up to events like the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, especially given these Games will be like no other,” Clements said. “Many athletes are still dealing with the pressures of training and selection processes. Those selected for the Games are facing the prospect of a completely different Games environment, without their usual support networks of family and friends.
“We’re here to help. The increase in demand for the AIS Mental Health Referral Network is also a positive sign that athletes are increasingly aware of the support available and are reaching out if and when they need it. People from more than 30 sports have reached out for support this year.”
Referrals to the AIS Mental Health Referral Network have most commonly come from self-referrals or via Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement Managers. The AIS has funded a national network of more than 30 Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement Managers across sports to provide direct support.
While two-thirds of referrals in 2021 have been current athletes, the AIS Mental Health Referral Network has also been supporting former athletes, coaches, staff members and family members.
The MoU with the AOC ensures all of Australia’s past Olympians, of every sport, has ongoing access to the AIS service as well.
AOC Chief Executive Officer Matt Carroll says the health and wellbeing of athletes has always been a significant priority for the AOC.
“From our perspective, constant communication with the athlete cohort through the past 18 months has been key, given the postponement of the Olympic Games and the challenges faced by athletes during this COVID period.”
“The AIS Mental Health Referral Network has been a vital part of our strategy to assist athletes manage all aspect of this difficult challenge. We are now very close to the Tokyo Games and our ongoing goal is to get the athletes safely to the Games, compete to the best of their ability and manage their safe return home and through the quarantine period on their return. That environment creates its own challenges which we are determined to meet.”
Clements said: “The AIS Mental Health Referral Network has expanded since its inception in 2018 and is now available at no cost to more than 3000 people in Australian high-performance sport,” Clements said. “We have a national network of 54 mental health practitioners providing confidential support in areas of psychology, psychiatry, neuropsychology and disordered eating.
“It is important to have partnerships with organisations like the AOC so, together, we can reach more people and make sure all in high performance sport know they’re supported. The AIS can only provide these services thanks to the ongoing support of the Australian Government who extended funding for athlete wellbeing and mental health in the most recent Federal Budget.”