Scotland

Michael Jamieson: Depression goes unrecognised in elite sport

Michael Jamieson
Image caption Michael Jamieson announced his retirement from the sport on Sunday

London 2012 Olympic silver medallist Michael Jamieson has said UK sporting bodies need to pay more attention to elite athletes' mental health.

The 28-year-old Scot said UK Sport was run as a business with no "direct responsibility" for athlete wellbeing.

Jamieson has announced his retirement from swimming, revealing how a brutal training regime led to depression.

UK Sport said it took its duty of care to athletes "very seriously", offering a comprehensive" package of support".

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Kaye Adams programme, the swimmer said he thought that increasing pressure to win medals could have an impact on the mental health of many athletes.

"There's been so much success particularly in British sport over recent years that we've just becoming accustomed to British athletes winning Olympic gold medals and the work and preparation that goes into that is a decade long."

Despite the huge sacrifices many athletes make to get to the top, Jamieson said he believed more could be done to care for their wellbeing.

"Ultimately UK Sport is a business and it's run as such. If sports are looked at as not being able to win the medals they need to justify their funding, then they're being cut as we've seen recently.

"It's terribly sad for the athletes involved that are directly affected by it.

"But it's a tough one because UK Sport and other federations involved don't have a direct responsibility for athlete wellbeing. It's not really their responsibility.

"They're there to provide a platform for athletes to win medals."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jamieson's career highlight was an Olympic silver in 2012

Jamieson broke his own British record to finish second in the 200m breaststroke in the 2012 Olympics, but missed out on a medal at the 2013 World Championships after a series of shoulder injuries.

Overtraining in preparation for the 2014 Commonwealth Games led to his heart being restarted and he was beaten by compatriot Ross Murdoch in his favoured event in Glasgow.

He failed to qualify for the World Championships in 2015 and missed out on selection for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The swimmer told BBC Scotland it was common for many elite athletes to over-analyse their day-to-day performance.

"A poor training performance on one particular day can put you in a negative mood state for quite a long time.

"I was just becoming far too analytical of my performance, expecting far too much of myself on a day-to day basis in training.

"I think that kind of habitual negative thought starts to grow arms and legs until it becomes extremely difficult to reverse that without the help of professionals."

He added: "I just always felt a huge deal of responsibility to do the best possible job I could and I just went really too far with that."

Image caption Michael Jamieson says many other elite athletes are in a similar position to him

Jamieson said he revealed his depression in an interview with the Sunday Times newspaper because he knew many other elite athletes who also had the condition.

"I became aware that there was a lot of athletes that had similar issues," he said.

"I think it's important that other athletes are comfortable to come forward, particularly the ones that aren't quite able to get to the top level. I would argue that they're more vulnerable to that sort of thing."

The athlete now wants to see more formal recognition of mental health issues by sport's governing bodies.

"I think going forward I would like to see something implemented to really help athletes in that transition area that are coming out of elite sport," he said.

A spokeswoman for UK Sport said: "UK Sport takes its duty of care to our athletes very seriously.

"This is why we offer a comprehensive package of support, including the mental health referral scheme, performance lifestyle advisers, who support athletes to balance life as an elite athlete and prepare for life after elite sport, and the Athlete Futures programme which includes skills development and careers events.

"We know that we can always do more. Athletes like Michael sharing their experiences is actually really helpful to us, and improving the duty of care to our athletes, who are ultimately the most important part of our high-performance system, will be an even greater focus for us in the Tokyo cycle."

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