Mental (ill-)health of Swiss elite athletes

Keywords: mental disorders, competitive sport, well-being, basic psychological needs


Mental health encompasses both mental health problems and well-being (Uphill et al., 2016). In recent years, world-renowned athletes, including Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, and Naomi Osaka, have directed public attention to the issue of mental health in elite sport by talking openly about their own problems in this regard. Empirical data on levels of well-being and the extent of common mental disorders among current Swiss elite athletes is limited, as previous studies were based on small samples and confined to certain age groups, sports, and/or a single disorder and did not include well-being (e.g., Gerber et al., 2022). In addition, the efforts of Swiss sport federations to support or promote athletes’ mental health have not been investigated or evaluated. A representative sample of Swiss athletes (N = 1003, Mage = 21.69, SDage = 7.09, 54% women, 37% team sports, 10% injured) answered questions about symptoms of mental health problems (i.e., PHQ-9, GAD7, SCOFF, ASSQ; Bender et al., 2018; Hill et al., 2010; Kroenke et al., 2001; Spitzer et al., 2006) and their well-being (MHC-SF). We also asked about the extent of basic need satisfaction (Heissel et al., 2018) and perceived organizational support. Overall, the numbers on symptoms of mental health problems (17% depression, 10% anxiety, 22% eating disorders, 18% sleep disorders) and well-being are comparable to other elite sport samples (Reardon et al., 2019) and the general Swiss population. However, we found large group differences. For example, 52% of women athletes were affected by at least one mental disorder symptom, compared with 30% of men athletes. Injured athletes were most affected in terms of depressive symptoms (28%). The study also shows that need satisfaction and frustration in conjunction with demographic factors is related to well-being and symptoms of mental health problems. Furthermore, the more support athletes perceive from their federations, the better their mental health. We conclude that a substantial proportion of athletes are affected by mental problems and more measures are needed to improve this situation, for example through supporting need satisfaction in the sport setting.


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How to Cite
Röthlin, P., Ackeret, N., Birrer, D., Peter, C., & Horvath, S. (2023). Mental (ill-)health of Swiss elite athletes. Current Issues in Sport Science (CISS), 8(2), 073.