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It’s been a glorious summer of sport so far. England reached their first major football final since the triumph of 1966, and while Team GB aren’t touted to scale the medal heights of Rio or London, we’re on course to overachieve once again in the medals table. That’s not to mention notable performances in the cricket and elsewhere.

However, the same sporting events have also housed a spotlight on the mental health implications on athletes and sportspeople. Individuals from a variety of sports have been brave enough to talk about their recent struggles, from cricketer Ben Stokes’ withdrawal from the England cricket team to Naomi Osaki’s withdrawal from the French Open, and most recently Simone Biles opting out of several Olympic events that she was touted to secure gold in.

This diversity of those affected is hardly surprising; mental health does not discriminate. As such, many of these struggles are also seen by those in other walks of life on a day-to-day basis.

As part of our ongoing dedication to supporting organizations to support employee mental health, we’ve picked out five lessons learned from this summer of sport that may help you if you’re managing a team.

It is not always linked to negative events

Record-holder Adam Peaty took home GB’s first gold medal in Tokyo on the 26th of July. He’s a golden boy in the eyes of pundits, fans and the media alike, smashing world records with a beaming smile on his face and an aura of extreme confidence. The 26-year-old commended his “gorgeous partner and gorgeous son” in his post-event interview with the BBC. Due to endorsements and prize money, Peaty also has an estimated net worth that puts him comfortable in the millionaire bracket. He’s a man with a lot going for him. However, what is perhaps most impressive is his attitude towards prioritising his mental health after claiming 2 golds and a silver medal in Tokyo, announcing he’d be having a month-long break after the games. He described swimming as “not a normal job (with a) huge amount of pressure”.

Peaty was disappointed by the reaction on social media; “reading some of the comments in response to this is why we have such a stigma around mental wellbeing in sport”.

Mental health is an investment, not a charitable act

Staying on Peaty and his recuperation from the pool, he also noted the effects of burnout on athletes. He claimed that some athletes would “fall off” by the time the next games in Paris takes place, due to overexertion in competitions between now and then, off the back of a “very tiring” lockdown period.

The swimmer was keen to illustrate it was not just a problem in swimming, either; “you’re seeing it in all sports now. You’re seeing it with Simone Biles, you’re seeing it with Ben Stokes, mental health matters”.

In fact, the deeper you dive into the breadth of this in sport this summer alone makes for shocking reading.

Mental health is the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK, costing employers approximately £45 billion per year.

Interestingly, the figure from Deloitte also includes the costs of ‘presenteeism’; essentially showing up to work but performing poorly due to mental health issues. Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, nodded to the fact that presenteeism “costs three times more than sick leave”, suggesting that company culture around time off and government intervention both need to improve. More specifically, he claims that higher Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and an improved definition of disability under the Equality Act – in order for more to benefit from its rights and protections – are areas of improvement.

The Mental Health at Work Commitment is an initiative from Mental Health At Work.org, with the aim of supporting signees to achieve each standard highlighted upon joining. Organisations who sign up receive ideas and advice aimed at making their transition and drive change.

Some of the companies on the growing list of signees include Wickes, MediaCom and Deloitte. They have clearly identified investment in mental health as a strategic decision.

People want to help

As a result of England’s penalty shootout loss to Italy in the European Championship final, Bakayo Saka and Marcus Rashford were subjected to racist online abuse. The pair missed in the shootout, with the former’s spot-kick saved to decide the match.

Marcus Rashford’s mural in Manchester was also vandalised by disgruntled fans (thugs). Despite this, there was a response of solidarity as those in the community recovered the mural with messages of support for the England forward.

Similarly, Bukayo Saka claimed he was left ‘“speechless” after Arsenal presented him with hundreds of messages of support for the 19-year-old.

It serves as a timely reminder that many people would like to support people in need, not tear them down, in their time of need.

It’s something that’s becoming harder to ignore

The pandemic has given many employees time to reflect on what’s important to them, with 2 in 5 reported to feel anxious about returning to work in recent months. Similarly, 1 in 3 reported ‘psychological stress’ caused by the pandemic. As such, pre-Covid shifts towards better mental health support strategies may well be catalysed as a result of the numerous lockdowns and time away from the workplace.

Mental Health is nothing to be ashamed of

As Michael Phelps – the most decorated Olympian in history – says: “it’s OK not to be OK”.

Closing thought

It’s encouraging that the stigma surrounding mental continues to be chipped away – although there still remains a way to in terms of normalising it in day-to-day working life. As shown this summer in the world of sport, no amount of gold medals make one immune to being affected.

Would you like support with improving mental health in your team or organisation?

We provide first-class mental health training courses, which you can view here.