The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has developed a new Mental Health Action Plan that takes a broader approach to support the protection and promotion of athletes’ mental wellbeing.
There is no health without good mental health
In an age where the mental health of athletes, and sportsmen and women in general, is coming under the spotlight more frequently, one sporting organization, the IOC, has developed a new action plan to tackle the issues faced by those engaged in sporting endeavors.
The Mental Health Action Plan (MHAP) being introduced by the IOC emphasizes the importance of recognizing that athletes’ mental health needs are as crucial for their performance and wellbeing as their physical health needs.
The plan also emphasizes that good mental health means much more than the absence of a mental health symptom or disorder.
Key targets for 2026
Guided by the principles of human rights, equity, evidence-based practice, and working collaboratively, the Mental Health Action Plan is a comprehensive strategy that will serve as a roadmap for the IOC to promote mental wellbeing across its four spheres of responsibility.
These four spheres of responsibility are the IOC as an organization, the IOC as the owner of the Olympic Games, the IOC as the leader of the Olympic Movement, and Olympism in society.
Across the four spheres, there are five thematic focus areas in the MHAP, with corresponding key objectives and actions to be achieved by the end of 2026 –
1. Culture and leadership
Demonstrating leadership in the field by championing a policy environment that recognizes the importance of mental health and wellbeing.
2. Measurement and research
Contributing towards more thorough and reliable mental health epidemiology in elite athletes and under-researched groups, with attention to cross-cultural differences – recognizing that evidence-based approaches are critical for impactful initiatives.
3. Reduce prevalence and improve wellbeing
Encompassing the continued development of expert-led tailored tools and initiatives to improve mental health literacy, reduce stigma, build mental resilience, and reduce sport-specific stressors that impact mental health and wellbeing.
4. Improve care
Encouraging the fostering of psychologically safe athletic environments which reduces the barriers to help-seeking, including through supporting early recognition of when further support may be needed and establishing pathways to care.
5. Improve access to sport
Promoting and supporting the mental health benefits that people and communities experience through accessing sport and Olympism in Society, especially in resource-limited settings, contributing to Olympism365.
Athletes’ wellbeing remains a top priority for the IOC
The focus on the protection and promotion of elite athletes’ mental health commenced in 2019 with the publication of the IOC Consensus Statement on mental health in elite athletes and the set-up of the IOC Mental Health Working Group.
More recently, Recommendation 5 of Olympic Agenda 2020+5 calls for increased mental health support for elite athletes and their entourages. Additionally, Recommendation 10 looks beyond the Olympic Games at the use of sport to create a better, healthier world by contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In addition to the Certificate and Diploma in Mental Health in Elite Sport, such resources remain vitally important in helping provide leadership to the Olympic Movement in this area and raising awareness among National Olympic Committees and International Federations.
Helping athletes to help themselves
The MHAP signals the IOC’s intent to integrate expert-led support for athletes’ wellbeing across multiple IOC programs, working on complementary topics such as gender equality and safeguarding, with the support of Olympic Solidarity.
The plan also draws on the principles of Olympism365, the IOC’s strategy aimed at strengthening the role of sport as an enabler of the UN SDGs, with particular emphasis on encouraging even more partnerships with organizations around the world that aim to bring individuals and communities together to experience the immense mental benefits of physical activity and sport.
To find out more about the MHAP being launched by the IOC, you can read all about it here.