Australian Olympians offered mental health support


Australian Olympians will be offered an unprecedented level of mental health support as they pressurize the biosecurity bubbles.

The COVID-19 pandemic has naturally dominated planning discussions for Tokyo 2021, both at the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Preparing for the bleeding conditions for what is expected to be the most oppressive Olympics in the heat has – and will continue to be – vital for the athletes.

But dealing with the ups, downs and post-Olympic descent also comes across as an obvious concern, especially given the particularly restrictive nature of a Games in which there will be far less fanfare and fun.

There have already been 206 referrals to the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) Mental Health Network this year, with two-thirds being current athletes.

It comes after a disruptive 2020 full of uncertainties surrounding the Tokyo Games, as international and interstate border closures continue to create problems for athletes.

“The various pressures from Covid are going to put pressure on mental health,” said David Hughes, chief medical officer of AIS and the Tokyo 2021 Australian contingent.

“There is more mental health support around these Games than any other Games we have had.

“Every athlete and official will have access to on-the-ground psychology services, online psychology services if they already have a relationship with a psychologist.

“We will have emergency mental health support structures.

“It’s already in place right now, people can use these services right now, during the Games and during the quarantine period.”

Mental health advocate and Opals captain Jenna O’Hea has admitted that 2020 has been an “s *** show * as the Olympians go through a roller coaster of emotions.

“It’s been a tough 15 months,” O’Hea said.

“My team can come to me with concerns if they don’t feel comfortable.

“Open and honest conversations are really important. People are ready to help if you ask for help.”

Australia’s pre-Olympic camps will essentially push athletes into isolation.

The measures are designed to ensure that no member of the contingent arrives in Tokyo with the coronavirus, as was the case recently with a coach from the Ugandan roving team.

Attending the opening ceremony will be a luxury for “a few”, according to Australian chef de mission Ian Chesterman, but local organizers are still finalizing details.

The Australians will spend a fortnight in quarantine at the hotel after the competition, which Hughes says will be a test pass given the “emotional disappointment” that arises with any performance.

“They have been under this constant pressure and preparation for four or eight years,” he said.

“We are always careful with athletes and officials after the Olympics, but especially for these Games when they come back to quarantine.

“We make sure to stay in touch… we have a whole range of measures in place that athletes and officials can take (while also quarantining themselves).”

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