Mental Health Experiences of National Rugby League (NRL) Athletes

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This article explores the mental health lived experiences of fifty-five Australian National Rugby League (NRL) contracted top 30 players. It focuses on the risk and protective factors that impact on athletes’ experiences of mental health, patterns of help-seeking behavior, prevalence of self-reported mental illness, and an evaluation of common supports available to athletes within high-performance systems. Through a phenomenological survey of quantitative and qualitative means, this study provided athletes with a platform to critically reflect and share their mental health experiences within the academic domain, making a unique contribution to the literature as one of the few studies giving voice to NRL athletes’ own perceptions of the stressors and pressures of elite sport. Key findings emerging from the study highlight athletes’ over-representation in self-reported mental illness (35% of participants self-reported living with a mental health issue), the encouragingly high help-seeking rates of those athletes (56% had sought support for their mental health issue; 78% indicated that they accessed support internally within their club; 22% had accessed support externally from their club), the need for culturally responsive well-being support practices, the impact of contract duration on the mental health experiences of athletes during the latter stages of their careers, and athletes’ view of the relationship shared between well-being and performance.