Background. India as a country lags behind in supporting the mental health of athletes. Discussing or talking about one’s mental health has long been a struggle in the Indian sporting context. There is a gap in the literature looking at the experiences of elite athletes with mental health. Aim. The aim of this research was to develop an understanding of how mental health is perceived by elite football (soccer) athletes in India. This study was an exploratory study looking at the perceptions and experiences of mental health of the elite soccer players in India to map the current situation eventually leading to social change. Two continua model of mental health was used as a guiding theoretical framework. The research question this addressed was: what are the perceptions about and experiences with mental health of the professional soccer players in India? Methods. Semi-structured interviews with open ended questions were used to interview six professional soccer athletes. An inductive thematic analysis was used to analyse the interview transcripts. Results. Three themes emerged from the transcripts: a) mental health, b) being an athlete is not easy, and c) a way forward. These findings highlight the perceptions, the mental states, and the experiences with mental health of the elite athletes. Implications. This research can help the coaches, sport federations, sport psychologists, athletic therapists, educators and policy makers better understand the lived experiences of elite athletes with regards to mental health in India.
Keywords: mental health, elite athletes, two-continua model of mental health, football (soccer)