Sport, Good Health and Wellbeing

Mental Health and the Sports Industry

Photo by photo nic on Unsplash

If 2020 was the year of athlete activism, 2021 is marking a new dawn in the consideration of mental health and sport. From the mental wellbeing of elite athletes to the positive role sport can play in maintaining good mental fitness, sport is shifting the narrative on how we think about mental health.

Today, October 10th, marks World Mental Health Day. This blog post, co-authored by Brands on a Mission and 17 Sport, is an exploration of why investing in mental health makes sense, and the efforts of organisations activating within the sports space to contribute to improved mental health.

Mental Health is Everyone’s Business

The benefits of exercise on mental health are well documented. But why should the business world care?

Firstly, the enormous cost of poor mental health on the economy starkly highlights the value of good mental health. One study¹ found that “lost productivity as a result of two of the most common mental disorders, anxiety and depression, costs the global economy US$1 trillion each year.”

Secondly, investing in mental health through physical activity could have a more immediate effect on team creativity, productivity, and your bottom line. Scientists collecting data² on the physical behavior and mental mood of over 1.2 million Americans, found that exercise is potentially more important to your mental health than your economic status. They found that physically active people typically experience 35 ‘bad days’ per year, compared with 53 days for non-active people. This research also found that the improved wellbeing of physically active people roughly equates to the wellbeing boost provided by a salary increase of $25,000 a year.

While this is far from an excuse to pay your employees less than their value, it suggests that investing in exercise spaces or allowing employees to carve out time in their working day for exercise could be a cost-effective way to boost team morale and mental health in these financially challenging pandemic times - and could have the same effect as a large pay rise.

Most importantly, there is a strong relationship between mental health and many social issues, from gender-based violence to racism and inequality. As the World Economic Forum³ summarizes, “a state of good mental health enables people to realize their own potential, to cope with stress, to work productively and fruitfully and to contribute to their communities. Ill mental health inhibits people on all levels.” Investing in mental health, such as through sports initiatives, is therefore a foundational step towards the realisation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Getting Active: Replacing Good Intentions with Impact

As Brands on a Mission explored in their latest Substack article, brands must become actionist brands. At 17 Sport, we wholeheartedly agree. Here are some examples of activation within the sports space and ideas to inspire your next move towards truly embedding purpose into your business models to do good, while doing well.

Supporting Society

There are many barriers to regular participation in mental health boosting physical activities: Lack of time, motivation, money and gender inequity, to name a few. Similarly, barriers to accessing mental healthcare are plenty. Any intervention aiming to reduce these barriers is a solid start.

Supporting Athletes

Although exercise typically has a positive impact on mental health, for elite athletes the impact of competition, commercial pressures, intense expectations and intrusive media can lead to mental health issues. As idols for many, supporting the mental health of athletes has a wider ripple effect.

  • Meditation app Calm pays Osaka fines for withdrawing from tournaments to prioritize mental health recovery.
  • Actively prioritize mental health in your brand partnerships with athletes. It is all too easy to speak of athletes as ‘business assets’, but we must remember athletes are humans first and foremost, and that they experience mental health issues at comparable rates to the general population⁶. Reasonable press conference requirements are a good place to start.
  • Speaking on athlete mental health, CEO and Co-founder of 17 Sport Fabien Paget summarized his thoughts: “For us, when we represent athletes, helping them define their purpose beyond sport is a powerful tool in cementing mental wellbeing, and complements the work of sport psychologists, effective coaches and responsible business behaviour. Athletic performance is just one dimension of who an athlete is — and it is our responsibility in the sports industry to support the whole athlete.”

The Business World Can Make Mental Fitness a Reality

Despite the positive impact of physical activity on mental health, and indirectly on the health of your business, organizations and brands are currently lagging in creating impact at the intersection of sport, lifestyle, and mental health.

We must demand more. A mentally fit society will more likely realize the SDGs and drive us towards a better world for both people and planet. Brands on a Mission and 17 Sport believe that efforts to facilitate an active lifestyle are a great place to start. Contributing to the mental fitness of your employees and wider society through facilitating active and healthy lifestyles is well within reach - for those bold enough to activate.

Co-authored by Emma Kennedy, 17 Sport and Matilda Crowfoot, Brands on a Mission

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