A Creative Nonfiction Story of Male Elite Athletes’ Experiences of Lifetime Stressor Exposure, Performance, and Help-Seeking Behaviors

Ella McLoughlin, Rachel Arnold, Francesca Cavallerio, David Fletcher, Lee J. Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (SciVal)


Greater lifetime stressor exposure has been related to negative health outcomes (e.g., depression, cardiovascular disease). However, the relationship between lifetime stressor exposure and sporting performance is less clear. Furthermore, while the prevalence of mental health issues among elite athletes has been relatively well established, it appears that sport performers are not effectively utilizing mental health support services, particularly male athletes. Therefore, this study explored male elite athletes’ experiences of lifetime stressor exposure and performance in their sport, as well as their perceptions of the factors influencing mental health help-seeking behavior. Nine elite male athletes (Mage = 27.44 years; SD = 3.50) participated in semistructured interviews (Mduration = 90.25 min, SD = 26.38) supplemented with photo elicitation. Interpretative phenomenological analysis developed group experiential themes. From these themes, we constructed two composite vignettes that addressed each of the research questions, respectively. The first vignette was written using a first-person narrative, allowing the reader to understand an athlete’s (i.e., Toby’s) internal thoughts and feelings, aswell as his experiences with lifetime stressors and how they impacted his performance. The second vignette was written using a third-person omniscient narration (i.e., the all-knowing narrator), detailing two athletes’ (i.e., James and Mark’s) experiences of seeking help for mental ill-health. Collectively, the findings offer vital and accessible information that sporting organizations can use to develop collaborative multilevel interventions that better support elite athletes’ performance and mental health, particularly athletes who have experienced greater lifetime stressor exposure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-204
Number of pages16
JournalSport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology
Issue number3
Early online date10 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2023


  • adversity
  • creative nonfiction
  • critical life events
  • qualitative research
  • stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Applied Psychology


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