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Training camp for the mind

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Dan Roan | 14:44 UK time, Friday, 23 April 2010

UK Athletics has already referred one of its elite competitors to the the Priory just days after announcing a new partnership with the well-known psychiatric hospital.

On a visit to the illustrious clinic in Roehampton, south-west London, the Priory Group's chief operation officer Matthew Franzidis told me: "We've just started but we've had one referral so far since the agreement was reached. Whether that number increases in time we'll have to wait and see."

Confidentiality prevents UKA from confirming who the patient is or in which event he or she competes, but the arrangement suggests that the added pressure of London 2012 is beginning to put an emotional strain on the country's Olympic hopefuls.

"The UK is the most sports-mad country in the world and that brings its own pressures," adds Franzidis. "With 2012 coming along we're bound to be keen that all our athletes do well and that's bound to put more pressure on them.

"Inevitably there will be an awful lot of attention focused on our young athletes - many of them are in their late teens and early 20s and that's quite a strain. At that age some will already be experiencing problems anyway and they don't know where to turn. We're here to help."

The Priory is fronted by an impressive, gothic castellated building. On its wide, secluded lawn sit a large number of in-patients - both private and NHS - among them a recovering celebrity, enjoying the sunshine. London's oldest private psychiatric hospital has become a household name as a refuge for a series of troubled stars, from Susan Boyle and Kerry Katona to Michael Barrymore and Kate Moss.

But the world of sport has had its fair share of patients too - Paul Gascoigne, Paul Merson, Frank Bruno and George Best. And now track and field will be represented here as well.

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"We were approached by the UKA Welfare Department to see if we'd be willing to enter into a partnership to offer support to athletes who are experiencing mental health problems, stress, anxiety, depression or eating disorders," says Franzidis.

"We're here to provide an assessment and treatment to athletes who need it. We have psychiatrists and therapists, treatments and counselling. Sometimes people may need to come in as out-patients."

It's clear that the fame and fortune that elite sportspeople can achieve has never been greater. But as the potential rewards increase, so does the potential for the emotional strain to reach breaking point as levels of perfection, expectancy and media exposure take their toll.

From Andy Murray's tears of defeat at the Australian Open, and Paula Radcliffe's mid-race breakdown at the Athens Olympics, to Marcus Trescothick's battle with depression - sometimes in sport, it can all get too much.

The suicide of German goalkeeper Robert Enke, came after years of depressive illness.

By the time 2012 comes around, Britain's elite athletes will be in peak physical condition. Now, with the Priory's help, they will hope to have healthy minds as well.


  • Comment number 1.

    i think i'm the first and possibly last to comment on this blog

  • Comment number 2.

    I think there is a lack of understanding of the pressures faced by elite sports men and women today.

    The consensus seems to be to think that these athletes are earning money and are doing what they love for a living and that going out and doing what many of them are paid handsomely to do (most of which don't get paid handsomely and that this is an easy life for them, how can they complain or be depressed?.

    I doubt many of those who harbour these views don't have to deal with the kinds of pressures faced from so many angles, of national and even international pressure from the press, the scorn of fans and everyone who wants to air their opinion.

    Stress related illnesses in the normal workplace are sky high and many of these people would never have to deal with their names being all over the press or 70'000 fans expecting them to dilver perfect results day after day.


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