UOW to host international conference exploring mental health in sport

Three-day conference to explore relationship between sport and mental health for elite and recreational athletes

UOW to host international conference exploring mental health in sport

Psychologists, wellbeing managers and mental health advocates with a specific focus on sport and athletes will gather at the University of Wollongong (UOW) from Wednesday – Friday this week to discuss emerging themes and research findings at the first ever GAMeS International Mental Health & Sport Conference.

Global Alliance for Mental Health and Sport (GAMeS), in collaboration with the Australian Psychological Society (APS) College of Sport and Exercise Psychologists (CoSEP), have coordinated the conference prompted by increased interest in policy and research into the role of mental health in athletes and the effects of sport on the mental health of non-elite sportspeople.

Topics to be covered over the three-day conference include the mental health of elite athletes, the long term impacts of concussion, and the role of community sport as a vehicle for education and awareness of mental health and wellbeing.

The conference will also look at strategies for practitioners to use in treating athlete mental health – from dealing with media, the inbuilt pressure to perform, facing retirement to recovering from injury.

Keynote speakers at the three-day event will include:

  • Dr Kate Hall is Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing at the Australian Football League (AFL), leading an industry-wide Mental Health Strategy with a dual focus: the prevention of mental health issues and safe and effective interventions to address any emergent mental health needs.
  • Professor Rosemary Purcell is the Director of Knowledge Translation at Orygen in Melbourne, where she also leads the Elite Sport and Mental Health team and is a member of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Elite Athlete Mental Health Consensus Group. She will present on creating mentally healthy elite sporting environments
  • Associate Professor Andrew Gardner is Co-Director of the Hunter New England Local Health District’s Sports Concussion Clinic and a member of concussion research panels for both the NRL and AFL. He will run a workshop that provides an overview of concussion from a clinical, research and policy development perspective.
  • Matthew Butterworth, the Mental Health Manager at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), will discuss strategies to practically implement mental health promotion and the progress of the AIS mental health referral network.
  • Amanda Gatherer from the English Institute of Sport will discuss mental health support and provisions that were in place for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth

Key organiser of the conference, Associate Professor Stewart Vella from the UOW School of Psychology, said this was an opportunity to bring together leading experts from around the world to discuss issues affecting the sports community that don’t often receive the spotlight they deserve.

“We saw a gap in opportunities to share knowledge specifically around mental health in sport. Sport psychology is no longer an outlier – almost every team and organisation recognises the value of embracing psychological tools to address skills, performance and team culture.

“We’re hoping to shine more light on mental health issues that are unique to athletes and also to look at the role sport can play in improving mental health across the community.”

There will also be a discussion stream on the mental health impact of sport in the community, questioning how to promote mental health in school, youth and club sports.

Dr Caitlin Liddelow, Postdoctoral Research Associate with UOW’s School of Psychology, will be discussing her findings, from exploring the re-engagement of new mothers in team sport, the role of mental health to other psychosocial factors.

“There is a wave of evidence that involvement in both team and individual sports can have a vastly positive impact on mental health across age groups and skill levels.

“Research shows that participation in team sports drops significantly for women in the five years after they give birth. In my research with 200 Australian mothers, I found approximately 50 per cent were still engaging in team sport. However, having current or previous experiences with poor mental health did not seem to influence this engagement. Rather, mothers who held a greater sense of their social identity tied to being an athlete and a team member were more likely to have re-engaged.”

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