Many British Olympic medal winners are plagued by psychological problems that arise from a lack of aftercare
Sportsmail can today uncover the scale of the psychic crisis that will hit our Olympic and Paralympic heroes after their retirement.
A shocking number of British medal winners have begun their struggle with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts since stopping and many have expressed concern about the lack of aftercare offered by governing bodies when coming from UK Sport funding.
Sportsmail has heard of retired British Olympic medal winners trying suicide because of their psychological problems.
Sportsmail has heard of British Olympic medal winners suffering from mental health problems
British athlete Craig Fallon suffered a major depression and took his life last year
Seven months ago, Craig Fallon, the 2005 judo world champion in Great Britain who participated in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, took his own life at the age of 36 after a major depression.
Track cyclist Callum Skinner won gold and silver medals at Rio 2016, but also suffered depression after his retirement and now leads the Global Athlete campaign group.
He said: “There is a duty of care for organizations to care for their athletes even after they retire. A lot more needs to be done. “
Callum Skinner suffers from depression and now leads the Global Athlete campaign group
Studies have shown that former Olympians and Paralympians are particularly susceptible to depression. They feel a loss of identity and purpose when they end up because of the all-embracing nature of their career and the comedown because they are among the best in the world in their chosen area.
Because of the “sadness” they experience after retirement, psychiatrists have noted that “athletes are the only people who die twice.”
Retired runner Kelly Massey, 35, won a bronze medal in Rio in the 4x400m relay race and is now a teacher and elite athlete transition researcher at Liverpool John Moores University.
She explained: “Being an athlete costs you 24/7. It influences absolutely everything: what you eat, when you sleep, what you put on your feet, when you train, when you socialize.
“So once that is gone, some people really struggle with the fact that there is a huge void in their lives. There have been cases where people have been admitted to hospital because they are simply unable to cope. “
Problems are great among retired rowers. Double Olympic medalist Alex Partridge, 39, is struggling with mental health since stopping after London 2012.
Alex Partridge, a double Olympic gold medalist, has been struggling mentally since London 2012
He said, “the wheels fell” after Rio 2016, when he saw how the eight GB men won the gold medal that had eluded him in his career.
Partridge was banned from driving under the influence of alcohol in November 2016 and was fired from his work as a sales account manager at an investment firm.
He said: “When the wheels fell off, no one from British Rowing called me. Rowing and many sports must realize that just because you leave, they are still important to you. They must have a sense of responsibility to check in and ensure that people are okay. “
Phelan Hill, 40, retired after he beat the eight of the men to gold in Rio, after he also won bronze in London with Partridge. He received an e-mail in October 2016 in which he was told when his financing would stop, accompanied by a “best practices guide” about the resignation of international rowing.
Phelan Hill simply received a ‘best practices guide’ for the resignation of international rowing
Hill said: “That was the full extent of the pension commitment I had. It is quite disappointing when you have spent so much time on something you love and care so much about receiving a generic thank you and farewell letter.
“It is difficult because there is a finite amount of funding, but sometimes it feels like you are in the system and then you suddenly get chewed and spit out.
It is disappointing if you have committed so much and everything you receive is a generic thank you.
“I was probably one of the lucky ones. I had already set up an assignment afterwards. But many boys have had a hard time. ”
Retired British archer Danielle Brown, 31, has also suffered. She won gold medals at the Paralympics 2008 and 2012.
But she stopped competing in Rio after World Archery ruled that her handicap – complex regional pain syndrome – had no impact on her performance.
She admitted: “It was devastating. You go through all the different cycles of sadness and shock. I went through a complete identity crisis.
British archer Danielle Brow was mentally affected after he was not allowed to compete in Rio
“It had a negative impact on my mental state. You clearly have the financial worries and there was concern about what the future holds.
You go through sadness and shock, an identity crisis. I felt badly supported.
“I felt very badly supported by the national governing body. They made my call, but the only other support I received from them was a piece of paper about writing a resume. “
Gail Emms won an Olympic silver medal in badminton mixed doubles in Athens and fought depression when she retired after Beijing.
She has previously admitted that she was struggling to find a job and was forced to sell things on eBay to pay her bills.
Emms, 42, said: “We are on a conveyor belt. Even if you get a medal, it is like this: “Well done, you did your job, damn it now.” More and more athletes are talking about depression, anxiety, transition struggle. It doesn’t look good at UK Sport at all.
“Suddenly UK Sport has disappeared,” OK, we have to do something “, but it is a box and after six months you are still cut off. Problems can strike immediately or three years later.
Olympic silver medalist Gail Emms is particularly critical of the way UK Sport treats athletes
‘Where is the duty of care then? Whose problem are you? Who wants these bloody ex-athletes who can’t handle life?
We are on a conveyor belt. Even if you get a medal, it’s as if “Well done, you’ve done your job, damn it now.”
An athlete can receive financing and private medical coverage for up to three months after canceling the selection of the UK Sport World Class program.
They have access for six months afterwards and for three months to the EIS team for mental health, which was established in 2018, access to the advisers of the English Institute of Sport (EIS).
But Massey added: “Athletes need longer access to things like this. If you go through a huge unrest, the last thing you want someone to say is, “Come on, sort yourself out”.
Former rider Kelly Massey says that the existing aftercare measures should be available for longer
“Are you really ready to make those decisions at that time? It must absolutely be extended, because depression may not start immediately, but in a year. “
Goldie Sayers won the bronze medal in Beijing. As part of her masters in sporting governance, she interviewed nine Olympians for a dissertation on the factors that influence the transition of athletes from sports to alternative careers.
She said: “Together they had won 12 Olympic medals and played 27 games, and they all struggled in different ways. Some more than others. People talk about losing status, because you go from the best in the world to something at the bottom of hope in another career.
“It is not necessary that there is no support, it is just as if that support is there at the right time. You retire, there is a sense of freedom and the lack of structure is great, but then the reality starts and you miss the structure and you have to find a routine.
“It only ensures that the support is offered in a certain way for longer than six months. That is probably the time when most people want access.
Goldie Sayers interviewed nine Olympians about the transition from sport to alternative careers
“Staying in sports also seemed to support the transition process, because it gives a sense of identity. So trying to keep athletes involved in sports, whether coaching or mentoring, is a no-brainer.
“Another point is that Olympic medals were worth a lot of money in the past, but now even Olympic champions earn nothing at all.
‘Boys in the nineties still live on their medals because there were far fewer. Now you are a small fish in a large pond and the means to earn a living after being an Olympic athlete has become much less. “
The Athlete Futures Network was launched in 2017 by UK Sport for former and current members of the World Class program and they will hold a career fair in the fall. But athletes have complained because they were discouraged from studying or doing other jobs while they were financing, which limits them when it comes to retirement.
The gold medal winning hockey player Crista Cullen, 34, said: “Where we can make more profit are the coaches who come to the party and encourage people to make plans for the future.
“But it is difficult because the coaches are assessed on performance and do not want athletes to be distracted. We have come a long way, but we still have a considerable distance to go. “
Crista Cullen, winner of the gold medal in Rio, says that coaching can be a future career
Sports psychiatrist Dr. Thomas McCabe said: “Olympians specialize in their chosen sport from an early age. Their entire identity is focused on that and if it is removed at the end of an Olympic cycle, this can have a detrimental effect on mental health in the long term.
Their [Olympians’] the whole identity is focused on that and when it is removed at the end of an Olympic cycle, this can have a detrimental effect on mental health in the long term.
“Where that responsibility lies then is not 100% clear at this time. Is it within the NHS or is there a duty of care from the point of view of sports administration to take care of future athletes? “
UK Sport finances the British Athletes Commission, which offers ‘independent world-class advice’ to more than 1200 top athletes from more than 40 Olympic and Paralympic sports.
Unlike their equivalents in other sports, such as the Professional Footballers ‘Association and Professional Cricketers’ Association, the BAC allows athletes to become members only six months after retirement.
A BAC spokesperson said: “Our ambition is to support and support more athletes for longer, even after retirement. We are well aware that there are finite resources in high-performance sports, and therefore the BAC needs to expand the support available to explore additional revenue streams that go beyond our traditional model.
The help must be expanded because depression may not start immediately.
Craig Ranson, the EIS director of athletes’ health, said: “How we support athletes after they retire is something we look at carefully as part of our future strategy.
“We examine the transitions that an athlete goes through when he enters, goes through and leaves funded programs. This includes considering appropriate support for mental health and has directly brought in input from athletes. “
A British Rowing spokesperson said, “It is always shocking to hear that athletes are struggling with their transition to retirement and this is an experience that British Rowing is constantly trying to improve.”