Elite sport, identity and mental health: a narrative inquiry

Hilton, Sally (2019) Elite sport, identity and mental health: a narrative inquiry. DCPsych thesis, Middlesex University / Metanoia Institute. [Thesis]

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The issue of mental health in elite sport has been gaining prominence in recent years. As the demand for welfare support for athletes increases, psychotherapists and counselling psychologists are likely to be increasingly called upon to work in sports contexts. However, there is limited research aimed at practitioners working therapeutically in elite sport, or research offering in-depth understanding of the lived experience of elite athletes and others working in high performance sport who go through mental health problems.

Using narrative methodology, this study examines the experience of those competing and working in high performance sports contexts who have experienced mental health concerns. Specifically, this study investigates the construction of sports persons’ identity within its subcultural context, to understand how it coexists with mental health problems and to identify how sporting cultures operate to support or silence mental illness/vulnerability stories and limit identity options.

Three elite athletes and one person who had worked in an athlete welfare role were recruited for this study. Interviews were conducted and analysed using narrative analysis which paid attention to both the individual’s narratives and the contextual meta-narratives against which they were framed.

Findings centred around three domains: the relationship between mental health problems and sports person self-identity; the impact of sporting subcultures upon the experience of mental health problems and support-seeking behaviour; and the tension in the system between welfare and winning. The narratives in this study demonstrate the complex interplay between the individual and the local context in terms of both shaping sporting identity and the extent to which the experience of a mental health problem is a threat to that identity. They point to the importance of understanding local sports subcultures to appreciate the ways in which they variably operate around mental health issues. The cultural demand to conform to a hypermasculine ideal of mental toughness and denial of vulnerability was experienced as particularly problematic in the cultures where this applied. These stories demonstrate the tensions which operate within sport individually and culturally, between welfare and winning and suggest some ways in which these tensions can be understood and worked with. Recommendations and implications for therapeutic practitioners and organisations are discussed.

Item Type: Thesis (DCPsych)
Research Areas: A. > School of Science and Technology
B. > Theses
C. Collaborative Partners > Metanoia Institute
Item ID: 27963
Depositing User: Brigitte Joerg
Date Deposited: 23 Oct 2019 10:23
Last Modified: 23 Oct 2021 03:04
URI: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/27963

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