French Olympic athletes to receive enhanced mental health support to address increased cyberbullying

French athletes at the Olympics and Paralympics will be offered better protection for their mental health, with priority given to curbing online harassment and cyberbullying. France’s Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra and Secretary of State for Digital Affairs Marina Ferrari have been discussing ways to ensure mental health is looked after at the July 26-Aug. 11 Paris Games and Aug 28-Sept. 8 Paralympics. Oudéa-Castéra pointed out the continued threat of cyberbullying to athletes in society in general, a risk she says is magnified when high-profile athletes are continually in the spotlight. “Athletes as well as many of our citizens are exposed to these risks,” she said. “We are implementing the tools to help our athletes, but also our young and all French people.” A study carried out by France’s National Institute of Sport, Expertise, and Performance (INSEP) showed that 15% of athletes have shown signs of high anxiety or depression, with the first signs of psychological difficulties beginning on average at the age of 17. The risk factors themselves are already well-known. They include being away from family for sustained periods of time, pressure from fans, expectations from sponsors, reactions from angry gamblers losing bets, fear of failure and constant pressure to get results. These factors are magnified by constant exposure on social networks. So plans are in place to better protect mental health going forward. Starting from June, the website France.sport dedicated to top-level athletes will have a “Santé Mentale” (Mental Health) section, which athletes can click onto. It features a guide with practical advice and a self-evaluation questionnaire. The athlete also has access to a psychologist recommended by INSEP. The same services will continue after the Games, and are also available for coaching staff. INSEP will also work with other French sports organizations on a presentation to raise awareness on risks linked to mental health among athletes. France’s sports minister is working with other ministries on ways to develop and support the profession of Mental Coach — someone who works closely with athletes to help with their mental preparation in order to improve their performance. At the Olympic Village in the suburb of Saint-Denis, a safeguarding officer from the French Olympic and Paralympic delegation and three welfare officers (who are trained psychologists) will be onsite during the Games. They will offer assistance to athletes and staff members who are experiencing mental health difficulties and, if needed, they can be mobilized to support athletes who are staying outside of the main Village. The safeguarding officer on site is also dovetailing as a designated person of trust who alerts authorities in case of serious problems happening online. An online application called Bodyguard is already being used by the French Tennis Federation and the French soccer league to give athletes better online protection, including content arriving in their private messages if they so wish. “The psychological stability of athletes deserves all of our attention. More than ever, they should feel safe and should be supported when they go through moments of difficulty or doubt or have a need to express themselves,” Ferrari said. “The context of (athletes’) lives exposes them to increased risks. They should be cared for with regards to these risks.” Further discussions are scheduled to be held in the coming weeks with the main social network platforms.

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