Breaking the stigma: The relationship of mental toughness and athletes' perceptions of mental health


Mental toughness is a key performance factor for elite athletes. The effects of mental health and mental toughness have been explored in the sport literature, but the relationship between mental toughness and perceptions of mental health had yet to be investigated. Online questionnaires were used to examine the relationship between the value of mental toughness and stigma toward mental health. Team sport athletes and coaches (N = 87; 46 females and 41 males) completed the Importance of Mental Toughness Index for Team Sports, used to measure the athletes' and coaches' perceptions of the importance of mental toughness, and the Attitudes about Stigma in Mental Health – Revised Sport Version that includes two subscales: stereotypes and social distance. Multiple regressions indicated that gender predicted 12.6% of the variance in stereotyping and 13.6% of the variance in social distancing behaviours. Mental toughness did not significantly add to the prediction of stigma toward mental health. Further exploration of the relationship between gender and stigma in sport showed that males valued mental toughness to a higher degree than females; t(85) = 2.14, p = 0.04, (d = 0.46). Males were also less accepting, carrying stereotype stigmas when compared to females; t(85) = -3.50, p = 0.001, (d = 0.75). Similarly, for social distancing, males were less likely to want to be around someone with mental health problems than females; t(85) = -3.65, p < 0.001, (d = 0.77). Efforts to decrease stigma toward mental health should be tailored to the target audience.