There are more resources for mental health support than ever before. The problem is not everyone experiences mental health issues the same way, and according to elite sailor Jessica Jobson, one group in particular faces intense mental pressure with inadequate support: high-level athletes.
“In sport, you’re constantly under pressure to get the most out of your body and mind,” she tells UKTN. “You’ve got to turn up and you’ve got to win. It’s not like you have to just do well – you have to win.”
Jobson explains that when it comes to athletics, all the physical training in the world can’t help you if you’re neglecting your mind.
“Athletes train their bodies every day but when they compete, it’s their mind that will let them down. Whether it’s just not being in the right headspace or actually having mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.”
And on top of the pressure to achieve perfect performances, at the highest level, athletes have to do it all while portraying themselves as positive public figures.
“Athletes are visioned as these people that are always happy and always strive to be the best that they can be but actually, there’s a lot more behind closed doors,” Jobson says.
“They’ve got this whole facade that they’ve got to put on because you can’t share that you’re struggling in sport.”
This isn’t just the perspective of one athlete. Research from the British Journal of Sports Medicine has found that approximately one in six international athletes experience suicidal thoughts.
While studying computer science at the University of Southampton, Jobson co-founded Journally, a mental health app targeting athletes performing at the highest level.
Jobson and her co-founder Laura M, who was studying psychology in Southampton at the time, found that the first hurdle for treating mental health was articulating the problem itself.
Despite mental health becoming a more openly discussed topic, many still lack either the confidence or the actual knowledge to identify the issues they’re having.
“The app aims to improve communication between the athletes and their healthcare professionals,” Jobson says.
The idea is that the athlete will go on to the app and they’ll log their mental and physical symptoms, using buttons that represent each symptom that psychologists working with Journally deemed necessary to track. A personalised Journally prompt will then help them reflect on that day, or the event that made them feel that way.
After the athlete has been prompted to explore their conditions and guided towards the right vocabulary, they can – if they wish – share the app’s findings with coaches or healthcare professionals.
According to Jobson, the app works on an “algorithm developed by psychologists that we’re working with”. She said that different symptoms are viewed on a scale and the more that certain symptoms are logged, the more at-risk a user might be of mental ill-health. This helps tailor the questions and journaling prompts to the specific user.
After its formation in 2022, Journally went through the Future Worlds startup accelerator programme based at the University of Southampton.
During this time, the co-founders decided they would take their general mental health support work and tailor it towards athletes after getting a lot of interest from sports teams during market research.
The app will be available for anyone to download; however, the company will be targeting specific partnerships with athletic organisations.
Early Impact is a monthly UKTN series profiling early-stage startups that are solving societal problems.