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03-04-2020 | Original Article

Tackling Mental Health in Youth Sporting Programs: A Pilot Study of a Holistic Program

Child Psychiatry & Human Development
Tiah L. Dowell, Allison M. Waters, Wayne Usher, Lara J. Farrell, Caroline L. Donovan, Kathryn L. Modecki, Melanie J. Zimmer-Gembeck, Mike Castle, James Hinchey
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Linking mental health services to organised sport offers an avenue to identify and improve mental health among adolescents. In this study, we investigated the efficacy, acceptability and feasibility of an integrated mental health system embedded within a junior sports development program. A three-step integrated mental health program for 12- to 15-year-old rugby league players (N = 74) was delivered in urban (n = 44) and rural (n = 33) areas. Specifically, this system (a) assessed participant mental health on primary outcome measures of anxiety, depression, and anger/conduct problems (and secondary outcome measures of personal attributes and relationships), (b) provided feedback to participants, parents and program coordinators, and (c) connected participants and parents to a multi-component intervention including online resources, a group-based workshop program (4 × 30-min sessions), and tailored individual-level follow-up and referral to further care for participants at high risk of mental health problems. From pre- to post-program, boys’ anxiety symptoms declined significantly (with only a trend-level reduction in depression), and there were significant improvements in grit (for urban boys only), efficacy to manage negative emotions, and prosocial behaviour. In addition, when boys reported symptoms associated with high risk for mental health problems, providing parents with feedback enhanced boys’ access to care and was associated with significant declines in anxiety symptoms. The program was generally acceptable and feasible, with very high retention in the youth sports development program. Overall, early findings support further deployment and evaluation of integrated mental health systems embedded within sporting contexts to address mental health problems among adolescent boys.

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