The Importance of Young Men's Mental Health in Sport

It's a time honoured pastime for many men, but it might have health benefits that go beyond better cardiovascular health.

New research has concluded that sport does play a crucial role in challenging stereotypes and promoting positive mental health for boys and young men.

Professor Murray Drummond, Director of the Flinders University's SHAPE Research Centre and a member of the Flinders Institute for Mental Health and Wellbeing talks about the importance mental health has on young adults.

"Suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged 15-25 and the majority are male, so it's vital we find a way to support young men's mental health especially during the transition period between adolescence and adulthood."

"For many boys, sport is a significant part of their life and often the only 'safe space' where they can receive positive socialisation and engagement, so it's logical it can play a substantial role in protective mental health.

"Our research set out to provide insights into how we can create safe spaces for males and influence positive forms of masculinities that can enhance mental health promotion."

The study published in the journal BMC Public Health, surveyed young males playing either Cricket or Australian Rules Football. The participants were then interviewed to gain a deeper understanding of the responses received in the survey and to examine the role of sport in their lives and their mental wellbeing.

The results showed that players, parents and key stakeholders within the sporting club viewed the environment as being an important place to shape young men's positive mental health attitudes.

"We identified a number of positive elements to playing for a sporting club, including having like-minded friends, as a release from the stressors of school, and the ability to engage with other males irrespective of age or demographic," says Professor Drummond.

"As clubs bring together different ages they are able to provide positive role models for the younger players, with strategic leadership and mentoring key to developing respectful relationships and positively shaping the young men's identities. Our study found greater club support was significantly associated with more egalitarian views."

Communication was seen as important for young men's journey through sport. Encouraging motivation and self-esteem was seen as critical for young men in sport, keeping them involved in sport through discussions and open chats.

The authors suggest that physical and mental health can be boosted through sporting clubs, stating the importance of social networks and relationships for young men.

"Sport offers the ideal space in which to create a nurturing environment while challenging stereotypical norms, important when most of the popular sports in Australia, including Aussie rules, cricket and rugby, have previously been seen to be sites of hyper-masculinity," says Professor Drummond.

"Clubs are crucial to changing young males' attitudes and behaviours for positive mental health outcomes, with the benefits of socialisation for mental health also not to be underestimated.

"We know so many young men will likely pass through a sporting club at some point in their life - we need to be engaging sporting clubs to ensure they can become an important vehicle for change under the right conditions."

Mental health is not talked about enough throughout the community and is assumed amongst most that everyone is fine, when that is clearly not the case, do not wait until it is too late to act on it.