- Mental health services should be available on-site at the practice facility or the arena.
- A team’s sports psychiatrist should be visible and consistently present.
- Mental health services should be available to coaches, team staff, and athletes.
Many sports organizations are moving toward providing increased accessibility to mental health services to their athletes and even staff within the organization. Although there are many models for how a sports psychiatrist can be integrated, one of the most critical aspects is that the services should be accessible.
Here are 5 tips for the optimal integration of sports psychiatry within a team:
- Mental health services should be available on-site. Although the traditional model of outpatient psychiatry that physicians are taught in residency includes seeing patients within a clinic setting, it is important to be flexible and adaptable in the sports world. In fact, having to go off-site to receive mental health services could be a barrier to accessing care for several athletes, given the demanding schedule. An athlete’s practice and competition schedule creates an obstacle for attending appointments and engaging in self-care activities. This certainly can contribute to an athlete’s stress and potentially to their mood as well.
- The team’s sports psychiatrist should be visible and consistently present. It is important for the sports psychiatrist to be present often for the athletes to get to know the physician and learn more about the available services. One role of the sports psychiatrist is to provide education on how utilizing services, with a focus on stress management tools and performance enhancement, can contribute to their success both on and off the court/field. Sometimes, players are ambivalent to engage in mental health services because of prior misconceptions or stigmas surrounding mental health. Establishing consistency will help gain receptivity among the athletes and staff.
- Psychiatry services should also be available to coaches and team staff. Due to demanding schedules and travel, coaches and team staff also experience stress, burnout, and mental health conditions. It is difficult for coaches and team staff to attend doctor's appointments during regular business hours, so it can be helpful to provide psychiatric services on-site to ensure they’re able to receive the appropriate care they need.
- Management should be supportive of integrating mental health services into the health and performance department as well as with the sports medicine team. Without a general manager's and assistant general manager's support and understanding of the need for mental health services, it will be difficult for the sports psychiatrist to truly integrate into the organization. For optimal integration of sports psychiatry into the team dynamic, it is critical to have support from the head coach and general manager, who genuinely understand that mental health services are contributing factors to the team’s success. It is of the utmost importance that the organization's leadership respects the confidential nature of the sports psychiatrist's services in order to create an environment for successful integration.
- There should be a focus on prevention as well as intervention. In order to provide comprehensive care, the sports psychiatrist should be involved all year round rather than just during the season. During the preseason, there is a focus on skill building and developing the necessary tools to combat stress and challenges during the regular season. Sports psychiatrists should consistently engage with the team to ensure that players, coaches, and team staff are given the tools to prevent concerns from escalating into a crisis. However, sports psychiatrists are also available to intervene if the emergency action plan is enacted.
It is crucial for a sports psychiatrist to receive support from a team's leadership and to be able to provide consistent, on-site services for a truly successful integration of mental health services into an organization.
McDuff DR, Garvin M. Working with sports organizations and teams. Int Rev Psychiatry. 2016 Dec;28(6):595-605. doi: 10.1080/09540261.2016.1212820. Epub 2016 Aug 9. PMID: 27686114.