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New study to investigate the mental health and wellbeing challenges of elite Para athletes

Colleagues from Loughborough University and the English Institute of Sport (EIS) will collaborate on a new study to investigate the mental health and wellbeing challenges faced by Para athletes.

As interest into athlete mental health has grown in recent years, evidence and interventions have duly followed to support those in Olympic sport. However, research specific to Paralympians and Paralympic hopefuls is still underdeveloped.

The three-year project will see researchers conducting an in-depth exploration into the subject, including one-to-one interviews with current and recently retired Para athletes.

During the project, the key challenges to mental health and wellbeing will be explored, with the data used to identify areas of similarities and differences between Para athletes and non-disabled athletes.

The role of Para-specific experiences such as transitions (into and out of Para sport), disability identity, and social support will also be explored. Data will identify recurring themes regarding received and perceived support, periods of vulnerability, and the additional requirements of Para athletes.

Supported by international academics, mental health practitioners, performance lifestyle advisors, and psychologists, the researchers will ultimately identify sport-related triggers and advise on prevention and management of mental health and wellbeing issues among Para athletes.

Throughout the study, researchers will support the EIS in the continued development of a robust mental health and wellbeing toolkit to support elite Para athletes throughout their sporting careers and beyond.

Lead investigator Dr Jamie Barker, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology, of Loughborough’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences (SSEHS) and team member of the Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport (PHC), explained:

“Working with the EIS represents an important collaboration and fantastic opportunity. We are all really excited about the research and applied practice contributions this project can have in the areas of Para sport wellbeing and mental health at national and international levels.”

Tom Paulson, Head of Paralympic Performance Sport at the English Institute of Sport, said:

The EIS is committed to providing bespoke psycho-social support that meets the needs of Para athletes. This research will be central to our understanding of the mental health and well-being challenges faced by athletes day-to-day and throughout their sporting careers.

“We have an established history of applied research with Loughborough University that directly impacts the performance support we provide to athletes and are very excited by this opportunity.”

The project will play a key role in Loughborough University’s Para Sport Strategy which launched in late 2019.

Professor Vicky Tolfrey, Director of the PHC and Sport Performance Research Theme lead within the SSEHS, added:

“It is great to see that the memorandum of understanding between the PHC and the English Institute of Sport (EIS) with a Para Sport focus has fostered many great working relationships over the years with the EIS Lifestyle advisors.

Project PRISM was an early start to this exciting new project and it is fantastic that Jamie is making strides in this field with the support of Dr Carolyn Plateau and Dr Tom Paulson.”

Researchers are currently recruiting for an ESRC Doctoral Studentship in association with the project. Interested applicants are encouraged to apply HERE.