British Cycling introduces mental health screening for athletes

The national governing body is aiming to offer more support in the high-stress sporting environment

British Cycling has announced a new mental health screening programme in a bid to improve support for athletes.

Cycling’s national governing body will review the mental health of all new riders, while existing sportspeople will be screened on a six-monthly basis.

The initiative is being introduced with the aim of putting more emphasis on athlete wellbeing.

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Head of medical services for the Great Britain Cycling Team, Dr Nigel Jones, said: “We took the decision to revise our approach to athlete mental health and well-being based on the acknowledgement that, as an elite sports team, we operate in a high-challenge, high-support environment.

“As a firm believer that putting the health and wellbeing of our athletes first is the right thing to do and the best way to achieve success, I am confident this revised strategy will enhance the mental health and wellbeing of our athletes for their own personal benefit as well as supporting their cycling ambitions.”

Athlete mental health has become a headline issue in recent months, particularly after the death of US track star Kelly Catlin.

Olympic silver medallist Catlin took her own life in March at the age of 23.

Shortly before her death, she had spoken publicly about the stresses of combing graduate school studies and racing.

British former track sprinter Jess Varnish also highlighted the “culture of fear and lack of investment in athlete welfare” in the British Cycling World Class Performance system, during the employment tribunal sparked by  discriminatory language used by former technical director Shane Sutton.

As part of the new strategy BC aims to shift the focus away from just providing support for people already diagnosed with mental health problems, instead encouraging coaches and support staff to be more proactive.

This will include two full-time sports psychologists who will work with the GB cycling team, educating staff so they have a better understanding of the mental health of athletes, and improved procedures so riders know how to seek help, alongside the screening process.

BC has introduced these measures with support from UK Sport, the English Institute of Sport and British Cycling’s Clinical Governance Committee.

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Stephen Park, Great Britain Cycling Team performance director, said: “It’s important that we create a culture and environment in which our athletes feel supported, and one which they want to be a part of.

“The revised mental health strategy is just one piece of the jigsaw in terms of how we’re constantly looking for improvements in the support we can offer to our riders. It’s not to say that we have all the answers, but rather we are committed to making improvements in the services we are able to offer.

“Our ambition is to top the medal tables once again in Tokyo 2020, and we now have some solid foundations in place to support our athletes in achieving our ambitions.”

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