Recognising the signs of young athletes at risk of suicide

Last updated: 02 Aug 2018 Topics: Elite athletes Safeguarding children Type: News article

Sport has been found to improve the lives of young people with mental health issues. However, the pressure of performance for some athletes can become unmanageable.

We’ve developed guidance for sports organisations on the steps they can take to reduce the risk of suicide within their sports organisation. The guidance includes links to services that can provide support to young people and organisations on athlete mental health and wellbeing.

With the recent tragic death of a young elite athlete in the media, it’s worth sports organisations reminding their staff of the ways in which they can recognise the signs that a young person they work with might be struggling.

Signs of risk

Young people who may be experiencing mental health issues and may be at risk oftaking their own lives, might display changes in behaviour, physical appearance or in performance. Some of these changes might include:

  • becoming isolated or dropping out of activities
  • seeming confused or distracted and unable to complete tasks they usually would with ease
  • a sudden halt in performance development
  • neglecting their appearance including, personal hygiene, or clothing
  • persistent physical complaints like chronic pain
  • sudden or extreme weight loss or weight gain
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • feeling like a failure and being very self-critical
  • decreased interest in making plans for the future
  • a suicide attempt or act of self-harm

Remember that young people face a range of difficult issues throughout their adolescence. Whilst some young people may develop mental health issues and raise more serious concerns, most young people will at times display some of the behaviours and feelings above as part of their natural development.

The key factor is in knowing and recognising these signs and indicators in young people and being able to open a channel of communication to allow them to seek help and advice where needed.


Download our guidance on reducing the risk of suicide within sport and through sport from our resource library.

Support services for young people

Information and support for young people on a range of issues
tel: 0800 11 11

The Mix
Information, support and listening for people under 25
tel: 0808 808 4994 (24 hours)

24 hour confidential listening and support for anyone who needs it
tel: 116 123

Young Minds
Information and sign-posting to mental health support for young people and parents

Support services for professionals

NSPCC Helpline
Information and guidance for professionals about issues effecting young people
tel: 0808 800 5000

Information and advice on mental health as well as local support services
0300 500 0927

Mind – Sport, activity and mental health pages
Information mental health, awareness training and advice

English Institute of Sport
Works with elite athletes to improve sporting performance and athlete wellbeing