Disordered Eating and Athleticism

Athletes at the top of their game are typically in peak physical condition – or are they? Disciplined training regimens, professional support for nutrition and performance coaching all give a developing athlete the tools they need to be healthy, compete well and achieve goals for themselves and their sport.  But recent suicides in the NHL and NFL, along with an increasing number of high-profile athletes like Clara Hughes and Amanda Beard disclosing struggles with mental health issues, prompted the Canadian Mental Health Association Kelowna Branch to raise questions about risk and protective factors for developing athletes in our community.

“When we considered the tragedies of these athletes’ suicides in light of how active and athletic our community is, we knew we wanted to reach out to local sports groups and at least start a conversation,” said Shelagh Turner, Executive Director of the Canadian Mental Health Association.  “We have been so pleased to see how receptive coaches and clubs have been to having us incorporate knowledge about mental health into their coaching expertise as they support developing athletes.”
As the Canadian Mental Health Association Kelowna Branch moved into this area, they not only found resounding anecdotal support from local coaches and trainers, but also found research to back them up.  One study looked at the principal psychological problems encountered by high-level athletes, and the variations on their prevalence based on sex and the sport practiced.  The study found that 17% of athletes were diagnosed with a mental illness, with anxiety disorders and eating disorders being the two most prevalent.  Disordered eating was found to be two times higher in racing sports for girls, and was double for boys in combat sports as compared to the general population. Anxiety disorders were highest in aesthetic sports like skating, gymnastics and dance, where a jury judges the athletes’ performance. 
In the last year and half, the Canadian Mental Health Association has provided training to coaches, parents and athletes on a variety of mental health topics they are tagging as “developing athletes’ mental core”.  As a continuation of this work, CMHA is offering a free public forum featuring renowned psychologist, Dr. Ron Manley, a specialist in disordered eating and athleticism.  The forum will be Thursday, February 7, 6-7:30pm. To get more information or to reserve your spot, go to www.mentalcore.ca or call the Canadian Mental Health Association at 250.861.3644.  This event is being offered free of charge in partnership with UBC Department of Health & Exercise Science and thanks to the generous sponsorship of Gateway Foundation, Global Fitness, and Valeo Health Clinic.

Dr. Manley has been a registered Psychologist since 1983. He worked in the field of eating disorders for over twenty-eight years at B.C. Children’s Hospital, which included eleven years as Clinical Director of the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program for Children & Adolescents. He is a registered weight training instructor, personal trainer and yoga fitness instructor. A recent publication of his is the co-authored paper “Fitness Instructors’ Recognition of Eating Disorders and Attendant Ethical/Liability Issues”.

The CMHA Kelowna Branch is a charity that promotes the mental health of all through community-based programs and services, public education, advocacy and research.  It is part of a network of more than 10,000 CMHA volunteers and staff in over 135 communities across Canada. 

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