Mental Health and Sport


Mental health in general has been in the spotlight a lot in recent years and more and more people have been brave enough to come forward and speak about their experiences.

Jonny Wilkinson has been candid about his battle with depression and obsessive thoughts. Leon McKenzie former professional footballer and boxer has spoken of his attempted suicide while playing for Charlton, Everton player Aaron Lennon was detained under the Mental Health Act in 2017, Dame Kelly Holmes spoke about how she had depression throughout her athletics career, Rio Ferdinand has spoken about how his children have coped with

Many people will recall the distressing images in the media of the once highly revered and arguably one of the most gifted English footballers of his generation, Paul Gascoigne whose struggle with drugs and alcohol has been well publicised.

The late, great George Best fought a long battle with alcoholism which ended his professional career and ultimately his life.

Former Arsenal and England midfielder Paul Merson battled alcoholism, drug and gambling addictions. Arsenal legend Tony Adams admitted to being an alcoholic. Ronaldo, one of the greatest footballers of all time, reportedly had a nervous breakdown during the 1998 World Cup Finals.

The death of England and GB Rugby League star Terry Newton took his own life in 2010 followed by Gary Speed MBE, Welsh player and manager who took his life in 2011.

Frank Bruno was probably the first top sports personality to appear in the press with a mental health disorder. When Frank was sectioned under the Mental Health Act the press ran the headline ‘Bonkers Bruno locked up’. It was reported that when Stan Collymore sought specialist treatment for his depression, Aston Villa wanted to sack him. So it’s not really surprising that many sportsmen and sportswomen keep mental health issues behind closed doors and don’t seek help before it’s often too late to prevent a complete breakdown.

Clarke Carlisle of the PFA was quoted as saying “Talking about mental-health problems has traditionally been one of sports great taboos.” He went on to say “Many players may not actually recognise what it is or know how to seek help.”

Others have been quite open about their mental health disorders.  Case in point David Beckham who spoke a few years ago about his OCD.


According to one newspaper, Beckham said the condition leads him to count clothes and place magazines in straight lines and symmetrical patterns.  He also said that one of the reasons he keeps having tattoos is that he is addicted to the pain of the needle.

Uncovered magazine reported on rugby player Alan Quinlan and James Wade, superstar of the darts world both opening up about their battles with depression.

Some people see these top athletes and celebrities as having the best things in life, languishing in money and fame, living the dream and in many case rightly so, however, the stress of optimum performance coupled with a celebrity life-style can and often does, prove too much for some. Living under such an intense spotlight inevitably causes some sports people and celebrities to feel and ultimately become overwhelmed.

And then there is the pressure that comes with success. The disappointment of non-selection and the immense void they can feel when faced with retirement. The anxiety of always having to perform, of only being as good as their last game or performance, their every move broadcast live to millions of people around the world not to mention meeting the high expectations of their adoring fans.

The FA has signed the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation, which is a framework setting out how sport can use its collective power to tackle mental ill-health and the stigma that surrounds it.

There is a campaign to improve the mental health, wellbeing and working life of rugby league players. SoM deliver free mental health player awareness presentations to help players identify how they can improve their mental wellbeing and encourage them to ask for help if they need it.

The success of SoM has been significantly aided by the support the Rugby Football League who have made it compulsory for every club to have an SoM workshop delivered to their players.

Cricket has seen player welfare driven by the Professional Cricketers’ Association. The PCA set up a confidential helpline for players back in 2007 and in 2012 launched ‘Mind Matters’ offering online support in how and where to find help.

British Athletics has a system in place to support athletes experiencing mental health problems and a medical team who can refer the athlete to a psychologist or psychiatrist if required.

Organisations and charities like Heads Together spearheaded by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry and Time to Change have been established to end stigma surrounding mental health.

It’s absolutely crucial to keep the conversation going.

How can hypnotherapy help?

Hypnosis in sport has therapeutic and performance-enhancing functions.

Hypnotherapy can improve an individual’s mental attitude by helping them to relax, remove anxieties and boost self-confidence.

By using visualisation methods athletes can draw more effectively on mental and physical resources and hold on to powerful mental images of success. Focus, relaxation, self-belief, accepting and embracing success, achieving a winner mentality, mental strength and the ability to draw upon physical resources more effectively are all major benefits achieved through hypnosis for sport performance.

Hypnosis teaches sports men and women how to achieve this state of heightened focus and concentration even in highly competitive and stressful situations, reducing stress while increasing performance.

During therapy sessions any issues unrelated to sport can be discussed and worked through with guided visualisation and relaxation techniques.

Gail Marra D.Hyp MNCH (Acc) LAPHP is a GHR registered Clinical Hypnotherapist accredited by the National Council for Hypnotherapy, Association for Professional Hypnosis and Psychotherapy, National Register of Psychotherapists and Counsellors and the Complimentary and Natural Healthcare Council

10 Harley Street, London W1G 9PF      Tel: 020 7873 2051

The Chilston Clinic, Royal Tunbridge Wells TN4 8RA      Tel: 01892 513535


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