Considerations around using body mapping methods for exploring mental health experiences of para-athletes


One-third of elite athletes experience mental illness. Individuals with disabilities are at an increased risk of mental illness. Body mapping may be a useful method to facilitate reflection in mental health research. The current study explores body mapping as a method for facilitating discussions on mental health experiences of para-athletes. Para-athletes (7 men, 3 women; impairment: 8 physical, 2 sensory, 2 intellectual) participated in virtual interviews using body mapping to reflect on the quality of their sport experiences related to mental health. Participants created an image of their body and were encouraged to make additions to the image throughout the interview. Researcher field notes and a reflective journal were used to analyze the researcher-perceived usability and adaptability of body mapping. Two themes were researcher-developed: actively supporting autonomy and individualized communication. These themes reflect the co-creation process of the body map, with (1) participants deciding if they or the researcher drew the body map (based on individual needs) and how their body would be represented (active vs. sedentary, images or words), and (2) the researcher navigating strategies for communication when the drawing was researcher-led to ensure the participant was actively co-creating the body map. Participants provided feedback throughout the interview stating body mapping aided them in reflecting on their experiences. Overall, body mapping spurred in-depth researcher-participant discussions on mental health experiences among para-athletes. Researchers interested in using body mapping are encouraged to seek participant perspectives and needs throughout the study to ensure accessibility and meaningful engagement of all individuals.