No high performance athletes are immune to issues around mental wellbeing regardless of success - Rod Corban

Hours before the tragic death of New Zealand track cyclist Olivia Podmore this week, she shared a social media post about the pressure of elite sport.

It has prompted several conversations about the issue of mental health in the high performance sport environment.

What fans see live at events or watching at home doesn't always show the mental toll.

"Everyone struggles with this stuff," says performance psychologist Rod Corban.

"Just because you're succeeding on the world stage, it doesn't mean you're immune."

And over the past six months, we've seen a growing number of high-profile sportspeople open up about their struggles, including Sophie Devins, David Nyika, Amerliaranne Ekenasio, Naomi Osaka and US gymnastics superstar Simone Biles.

"I think some of the pressures or pinch points are greater because often their performance or their selection is so wrapped up in who they see themselves as a person. 

"And when that's challenged, that's quite confronting."

All Blacks coach Ian Foster touched on the subject during the build up to the second Bledisloe Cup test, saying awareness of mental health is part of the All Blacks mantra. 

"We’ve always had a concern," Foster said. "Part of this job is making sure people deal with the pressure of the environment the right way."

Particularly in this day and age, when COVID-19 poses an added challenge and social media means athletes are subject to more criticism than ever before. 

And while tools are in place to help them, Corban says they're not always utilised as well as they should be. 

"There are resources for the athletes, but I think often the barrier is still that stigma or how it's perceived that you're not good enough or weak and need some help.

"When you don't win, you've got something else and if you don't succeed in this moment it doesn't define who you are… so there's a recognition we've got to do better in that space." 

Creating a greater awareness, the first step towards achieving that.