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AIS launches crucial mental health service for athletes

24 March 2019

The AIS is continuing its commitment to the wellbeing of Australia’s high performance athletes by launching a nation-wide mental health support service.

Dane Bird-Smith
Olympic and Commonwealth Games medallist, race-walker Dane Bird-Smith.

The Mental Health Referral Network (MHRN) will provide almost 1,000 AIS-funded athletes with access to 27 AIS-endorsed psychologists and mental health practitioners located across the country.

The AIS Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement division launched last year to provide holistic support to high performance athletes and Director Matti Clements says the Mental Health Referral Network is a crucial initiative.

“We know there has been a critical need to build mental health literacy and support mechanisms so that athletes can easily access help across our high performance sport networks,” Clements says.

“The Mental Health Referral Network will provide timely assessment and services to support Australia’s high performance athletes. Professional guidance and counselling is crucial for athlete mental health, and that requires immediate access to committed, high quality mental health practitioners.

“This complements other initiatives the AIS has already launched for athlete support, including funding and embedding a network of Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement managers directly in sports.

“Our ultimate aim is for Australia’s high performance athletes to be their very best in life as well as sport.”

Olympic and Commonwealth Games medallist, race-walker Dane Bird-Smith, has dealt with mental health challenges during his sporting career and endorses the AIS approach to athlete wellbeing.

“Australian sport needs these services and it’s fantastic to see the AIS taking the lead to deliver them in partnership with sports,” Bird-Smith says. “As athletes, we can become so focused on marginal performance gains that we can often ignore the big picture of our holistic health. Mental health awareness can help as much as anything else.

“I’ve personally dealt with mental health challenges during my sporting career and my message to athletes is to reach out if you need help. Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re broken, it can actually help break down barriers and stigmas. The athlete life can be difficult and every bit of knowledge can help.”

Athlete wellbeing, including mental health, is one of the key strategic priorities of the National Sport Plan - Sport 2030.

“Wellbeing and performance go hand in hand,” Clements says. “By increasing athlete wellbeing we will be assisting athletes and sports to achieve more sustained performance and success at the highest level.

“This is the first stage of the Mental Health Referral Network and over coming months we will also be building a national network of endorsed psychiatrists and neuropsychologists.”

Athletes can contact MHRN practitioners by telephone, electronically or via their national sporting organisation. A website has been launched with further information at

Dane Bird-Smith
Dane Bird-Smith has faced mental health challenges during his sporting career.
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