The breadth of mental ill-health stigma research in sport: A scoping review


Mental ill-health affects athletes at prevalence rates similar to the general population (Rice et al., 2016), despite beliefs that athletes are protected by highly physically active lifestyles. As seen in the general population, mental ill-health stigma can negatively impact various psychosocial (e.g., diminished self-efficacy) and social (e.g., limited social opportunities) outcomes. Though discussions of stigma are ubiquitous within sport, the research landscape on mental ill-health stigma is unclear. Therefore, we conducted a scoping review overviewing the extant literature on stigma in sport, identifying 68 articles through a systematic literature search protocol. We charted data from included studies (e.g., type of stigma studied, stigma-related constructs) and analyzed data frequencies to determine research trends. We found that researchers have primarily focused on two specific constructs, while others are underdeveloped. Additionally, researchers often did not clarify the type of stigma under study, limiting the ability to synthesize findings with existing research. Structural stigma has yet to be explicitly studied, presenting a significant literature gap. Finally, closed-ended research methodologies inhibit the centralization of participants' experiences which could lead to progressive understandings of mental ill-health stigma. Building from this overview, researchers can be better positioned to expand sport stigma research. Understanding the impact of stigma at personal, interpersonal, and structural levels allows practitioners to integrate interventions within organizational systems. Further, utilizing inclusive methodologies can empower participants through supportive environments and developing collaborative long-term research-to-practice interventions that athletes share stake in. Creating athlete ownership of interventions can increase their effectiveness and lead to self-sustaining programs.