World Mental Health Day (10th October) provides a chance to talk about mental health in general, how we can look after it, and how important it is to talk about things and get help if you are struggling.
With UK Sport, the English Institute of Sport (EIS) established a Mental Health Team in 2018 to provide expert support, education and guidance to sports and athletes across the high performance system.
The team has recently expanded, with Ann-Marie Davis joining as Mental Health Lead. We caught up with Ann-Marie to find out more about her new role and how the EIS will continue to provide vital mental health support to sports and athletes through to the Paris Games and beyond.
Can you give us an overview of your career to date?
For the last 24 years I worked for the NHS, initially as a Mental Health Nurse, then as a manager of a community mental health nursing team. I have worked in both primary (i.e. first point of contact) and secondary (i.e. services which generally need a referral from a GP) mental health. I retrained as a cognitive behavioural psychotherapist in 2006 and worked in secondary care, before moving on to primary care psychological services and my last post before joining the EIS was with the Veteran helping set up High Intensity support services.
Which areas have you focused on through your career?
When I first trained as a nurse, my focus was on adults experiencing enduring mental illness, namely schizophrenia and Bipolar and other mood and anxiety disorders. I also had an interest in the treatment of trauma and personality disorders. As I gained experience, I wanted to be able to treat these presentations. I went on to complete a further degree at Kings College, qualifying as an accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist, I also went on to train at Dialectical Behavioural Therapist (DBT) and worked with a DBT team for two years which I found to be an amazing place to work.
In more recent years my focus moved to more preventative intervention. The theory being to get in early to prevent long term distress. Working in primary care and enabling clients to access psychological support at the point of referral has been satisfying.
My work in sport has focused on low mood, anxiety, phobia, eating disorder and trauma and performance.
When did you first start to work in sport?
In 2008, I was approached by a cricketer who asked for help around consistency in his sport. At the time I let him know that I was not a performance psychologist, and I certainly did not know anything about cricket! His response has stayed with me “well you know nothing about cricket, and I know nothing about psychotherapy so we should get on fine”. We worked together to understand the problem and I researched at the time the latest interventions and we reached a place he was happy with. That experience sparked an interest for me and over the years I have had the privilege of working with many athletes who found me through word of mouth or in more recent years through the Athlete Medical Scheme.
Can you tell us more about your role with the EIS?
The main intention of my role as the Mental Health Lead is to provide some direct connection to sports’ ‘Mental Health Working Groups’ and the EIS Mental Health Team. I will be able to provide advice and support for practitioners on the management of mental health concerns within sports. I will also be able to offer guidance with the mental health referral process via the Athlete Medical Scheme. I will also be working to develop our network of Bupa-registered mental health practitioners.
This new Mental Health Lead role is in addition to the excellent support already available via the Mental Health Expert Panel who remain available to sports for advice and guidance on all matters relating to mental health, particularly on complex cases and development of strategies, processes, or policies. [To access the Mental Health Expert Panel, please email email@example.com]
Why are awareness days, such as World Mental Health Day, so important?
WMHD continues to be important and allow the conversation to continue. My hope is that mental health discussions become part of the everyday, instead just on a special day. My passion for mental health has never changed and I have and continue to meet people who are extraordinary.
EIS Head of Mental Health Sam Cumming added: “Ann-Marie coming on board with the EIS Mental Health Team is a great step forward as we plan the EIS’s offer of support to sports for the 2025 cycle. The Mental Health Lead role was developed after identifying opportunities for improvement in the support offered to sports during the Tokyo Cycle.
“Specifically, we saw three key areas where this role could add value for sports: regular input to sports’ mental health working groups, guidance for practitioners for the ‘in-house’ support of athletes with a mental health challenge, and facilitating the process of referring athletes to mental health practitioners outside their sport.
“Rather than carrying out individual assessment or treatment, in this role Ann-Marie will use her excellent clinical experience to provide advice and guidance to sports in key areas described above.
“A fundamental part of Ann-Marie’s work behind the scenes will be the development of our network of ‘known’ Bupa-registered mental health practitioners. This is so that we can be confident that our athletes are referred to the right practitioners who have a good understanding of the unique world of high performance sport and are willing to help with the ‘return to training’ process after treatment. We’re thrilled to have her as part of the team.”
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