Article Text

Athletes’ access to, attitudes towards and experiences of help-seeking for mental health: a scoping review protocol
  1. Kirsty R Brown1,
  2. Mary L Quinton1,
  3. Grace Tidmarsh1,
  4. Jennifer Cumming1,2
  1. 1School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
  2. 2Institute of Mental Health, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
  1. Correspondence to Kirsty R Brown; krb700{at}


Introduction Athletes are not immune to mental health issues but are less likely to seek help than non-athletes and experience barriers including lack of access to services, lack of knowledge as to how to access services and negative past experiences for help-seeking. Formal (eg, university counsellors, general practitioners and psychologists) and semi-formal (eg, academic tutor, sports coach and physiotherapist) sources of support provided in healthcare, the sport context and higher education are key places for athletes to seek help for mental health, and there is a need to synthesise the evidence on athletes’ access, attitudes to and experiences of these services, to understand how to improve these services specific to athletes’ mental health needs. This protocol outlines a scoping review that will be used to map the evidence, identify gaps in the literature and summarise findings on athletes’ access, attitudes to and experiences of help-seeking for their mental health.

Methods and analysis The methodological frameworks of Arksey and O’Malley (2005), Levac et al (2010) and the Joanna Briggs Institute (2020 and 2021) were used to inform this scoping review protocol alongside the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic review and Meta-Analysis Protocols checklist and published scoping review protocols within sport and health. The six stages of Arksey and O’Malley’s (2005) framework have been used for this scoping review. The searches were conducted between 30 March 2022 and 3 April 2022 in the following databases: APA PsycINFO (via OVID), Embase (via Ovid), MEDLINE (via Ovid), APA PsycArticles Full Text (via OVID), Web of Science Core Collection, SPORTDiscus (via EBSCO), CINAHL (via EBSCO), Scopus, ProQuest (Education Database), ProQuest (Education Collection), ProQuest (Health & Medical Collection), ProQuest (Nursing & Allied Health database), ProQuest (Psychology Database), ProQuest (Public Health Database) and ProQuest (Sports Medicine & Education). The main inclusion criteria of this review are: papers that focus on past help-seeking behaviour, attitudes towards help-seeking and future behavioural intentions, papers that refer to formal and semi-formal sources of support and peer-reviewed literature, primary research articles, systematic or scoping reviews and interventions. During title and abstract screening and full-text review, at least two reviewers will be involved. Data to be extracted from studies includes: details of the study population, whether the paper focuses on formal and/or semi-formal sources of support and whether the focus is on access, attitudes or experiences to help-seeking for mental health.

Ethics and dissemination The evidence will be mapped numerically and through content analysis to describe studies and highlight key concepts, themes and gaps in the literature. The published scoping review will be disseminated to relevant stakeholders and policymakers including those in healthcare, the sporting context and the higher education system. The resulting outputs will be in the form of both peer-reviewed and non-peer reviewed publications (eg, multimedia in the form of a blog post and at conferences). The dissemination plan will be informed by patient and public involvement. Ethics approval was not required for this study.

  • Sport
  • well-being
  • mental illness
  • help-seeking behavior
  • treatment-seeking
  • mental health service
  • formal support

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  • Twitter @kirstykrb, @Mary_q6, @jenncumming

  • Contributors KRB conceived the research question for the scoping review with supervision from MLQ and JC who approved and refined the idea. KRB conducted literature searches and drafted the entire manuscript with input from all coauthors. MLQ, GT and JC provided feedback on the manuscript. All authors reviewed and approved the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests All authors have completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form at and declare: that the Article Processing Charges will be covered by the University of Birmingham if accepted for publication; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous 3 years; no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research. Refer to the Methods section for further details.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.