Objectives: The prevalence of mental health problems among adolescents is alarmingly high. With lower rates of accessing services than young women, young men and boys represent a group at high risk of developing mental health problems. Organised sport represents one important, but under-studied, avenue for supporting mental health. This study aimed to explore adolescent males' perspectives on sport as a context for supporting mental health.
Design: Interpretivist qualitative design.
Method: Participants were 55 adolescent males aged 12–17 years (M = 14.73; SD = 1.67) who were currently participating in organised basketball, soccer, Australian Rules Football, swimming, cricket, or tennis. Sixteen focus groups were conducted which lasted, on average, 48 min (SD = 9.25). Data were analysed inductively and thematically, with strategies employed to enhance rigour and trustworthiness.
Results: Findings indicated that these adolescent males perceived sport to be an engaging vehicle for supporting mental health, particularly in teams, and through interest in elite athletes' mental health. They considered coaches and parents/family to be key support individuals. In addition, these adolescents expressed a need to know how to help individuals close to them who may be struggling with a mental health issue. Finally, the participants perceived the need for resources to prevent and cope with mental health issues. Conclusion: This study suggests that sport is a promising, and potentially engaging avenue for supporting mental health. Adolescents perceive need for clubs, parents, and coaches to develop knowledge around mental health, and in particular, desire strategies for providing help.
The WHO defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community” (2004, p.10). Such an emphasis on functionality necessitates the consideration of the presence (or absence) of both a state of wellbeing and mental health problems (Keyes, 2002). The prevalence of mental health problems among young people and adolescents are high, for example, in Australia 14% of all children and adolescents have a current mental health problem (Lawrence et al., 2015). Childhood psychological disorders persist through adolescence (Gonzalez, Alegria, & Prihoda, 2005) and are recognised as one of the most prominent contributors to the global burden of disease among young people (Patel, Flisher, Hetrick, & McGorry, 2007). Furthermore, half of all psychological disorders have their onset before the age of 14 years (Kessler et al., 2007). When experienced during adolescence, mental health problems can have a long-term impact because they reduce the likelihood of completing school, gaining employment, and engaging as a productive member of society, with significant costs to quality-of-life (Kieling et al., 2011). Young men and boys represent the group at highest risk of mental health problems and suicide in one third of developed countries (World Health Organisation [WHO], 2014). For example, in Australia adolescent males are more likely to have experienced mental health issues than adolescent girls (15.9% compared to 12.8%; Lawrence et al., 2015). Adolescent males also have lower rates of help-seeking than girls (Gonzalez et al., 2005) and are less likely to have sought help from professional services (Lawrence et al., 2015). Adolescent males also maintain higher levels of stigmatising attitudes regarding mental health problems (Lawrence et al., 2015).