The Mental Health Act and Sports

by: Mickey Ingles

Carlo Pamintuan’s recent article on ex-PBA player and now basketball analyst Tony dela Cruz has shed much needed light on the issue of mental health of athletes. The article is required reading for anyone in the industry, as mental health in sports is a topic rarely discussed. Sadly, this non-discussion has caused the impression that mental health is a non-issue in sports, that athletes have it all figured out, and that our athletic idols don’t have the right to speak up about their issues, lest we consider them weak or judge them.

The stigma is real. And it surely doesn’t help.

The Mental Health Act of 2018 seeks to remove this stigma by promoting mental health, enumerating the rights of persons with mental health conditions (called “service users” under the law), and setting the responsibilities of the stakeholders. Athletes with mental health conditions (AWMHC) can find some protection and solace under the law.

The law enumerates a long menu of rights in Section 5 (which you can access here). The most fundamental, however, is the principle that AWMHC should not be discriminated against and should be free from any form of stigmatization, whether committed by public or private actors. The inclusion of private actors is important, as it recognizes the role of the private sector in removing the stigma attached to mental health conditions. It also puts the onus on private workplaces (like sports academies or professional teams) and private schools to do what it can to remove the stigma.

AWMHC have the right to access evidence-based treatment, health and social services for mental health, mental health services at all levels of the national health care system, and other forms of treatment. Save for a limited number of situations, they also have the right to give informed consent in writing before receiving any treatment or care—which includes the right to withdraw such consent.

AWMHC’s family members, carers, and legal representatives also have rights geared to help AWMHC. These include the right to receive appropriate psychosocial support from the government and even applying for their transfer to an appropriate mental health facility.

For student-athletes with mental health conditions, schools must develop policies and programs for students, educators, and other employees to raise awareness on mental health issues. These programs must also help identify and provide support for students at risk and facilitate access to treatment and support. Finally, educational institutions are also required to have a complement of mental health professionals.

Academic departments will do well to formulate their own policies and programs for their student-athletes, to help them deal with the stress and pressure specific to sports. Coaches, while not specifically mentioned in the law, should at least be aware of mental health issues and be open to the needs of their student-athletes, especially as they are the closest link between the student-athlete and the school.

For professional athletes, employers must also develop appropriate policies and programs on mental health, also to raise awareness and remove the stigma attached to mental health conditions. The policies and programs of these employers, such as PBA teams, should provide support for its players, especially those it identifies as at risk. And good practice dictates that employers should likewise have mental wellness programs for its athletes. It wouldn’t harm to have a coach or a staff member well-versed in mental health on its roster as well.

While the connection of the Mental Health Act to sports may seem thin at the outset, the law, general as it is, applies to sports. In fact, the story of Tony dela Cruz teaches us that it should apply to sports.

Let’s all do our part.

Mickey Ingles is the editor-in-chief of Batas Sportiva.



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