Exploring the experiences of high performance Canadian athletes with mood and/or anxiety disorders


Background: Until recently, it was widely assumed that mood and anxiety disorders were not common medical problems for high performance athletes (e.g., Dean & Rowan, 2013; Markser, 2011; Reardon & Factor, 2010). However, as athletes come forward to share their struggles with mental illness, this assumption has been brought into question. Very little research has focused on mood and anxiety disorders in high performance athletes; what is known comes primarily from mass media and popular culture (e.g., Hughes, 2015; Marino, 2013). The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of high performance Canadian athletes with mood and/or anxiety disorders. Methods: Three athletes were recruited via purposeful sampling. Athletes currently or recently competed for places on Canadian national sports teams. Athletes participated in semi-structured interviews with open-ended questions related to their sporting careers and how they coped with being a high performance athlete and having a mood/anxiety disorder Results: Participants described dealing with stigma related to their diagnoses. Initially, treatment took a back seat to training and competition; ultimately, participants required a break from sport in order to effectively manage their illness. Participants expressed a need for education in the sport community regarding mood/anxiety disorders as well as greater access to psychologists for high performance athletes. Discussion: Findings are discussed within the context of existing research on high performance sport and mood/anxiety disorders. Preliminary implications include the development and evaluation of education programs to decrease stigma, coupled with increases in funding for available resources for mood and anxiety disorders in the sport community.