Over the past few weeks, several reports on high school and collegiate athletes’ mental health and well-being were released. I have summarized some of the key results here for coaches, administrators, parents, teachers/professors, and peers who interact with student-athletes to be aware of these mental health issues and potentially intervene.
Research Report Summaries
UW School of Medicine and Public Health
- 3,243 high school athletes in Wisconsin participated in May 2020.
- Rates of depressive symptoms experienced were on average 3.5 times higher than in normal times.
- About 2 in 3 athletes reported depressive symptoms, and a similar rate reported anxiety symptoms.
- About 1 in 3 and 1 in 4 athletes reported moderate to severe symptoms in depression and anxiety, respectively.
- There was a 50% decrease in physical activity and a 14% decrease in health-related quality of life.
- 37,658 NCAA Div I-III athletes participated in April 2020.
- Rates of mental health concern experienced were on average 1.5-2.5 times higher than in normal times and were higher in female athletes.
- About 1 in 3 athletes reported sleep difficulties; 1 in 4 feeling sad and a sense of loss; and 1 in 12 feeling so depressed that it had been difficult to function.
- Athletes who were male, international, or without athletic aids expressed the most uncertainly about returning to the team.
UNT Center for Sport Psychology and Performance Excellence
- Approximately 6,000 NCAA Div I-III athletes participated between April and May 2020.
- Most athletes, more so for female, experienced moderate or subclinical level of depressive symptoms, distress, and life dissatisfaction.
- About 1 in 6 athletes reported sleep disturbances; 1 in 5 feeling depressed; and 1 in 7 feeling dissatisfied with life.
- Only 1 in 3 athletes who engaged in counseling prior to the pandemic could continue after the shutdown of sports. Only 2% started counseling since the beginning of pandemic.
Here are some additional data related to NCAA student-athletes’ desired resources:In terms of resources specific to their training and physical well-being, participants indicated they would generally look to coaches as their primary source for information. They would also turn to coaches to help maintain social connections (most likely among their teammates). Many reported they would look to their athletics department in terms of academic support (highest in Division I), career planning and financial assistance resources.
What can coaches and administrators do to help student-athletes with mental health and well-being?
Based on these data and athlete responses, the pandemic is a time during which coaches and administrators should really prioritize mental health and well-being through social connections. Reaching out to sport psychologists or mental health professionals is crucial before addressing any mental health challenges.
In the meantime, coaches and administrators can find ways to keep student-athletes engaged and socially connected. According to self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000), fostering athletes’ autonomy, competence, and relatedness, as explained in the infographic, is essential to maintaining athletes’ motivation as well as mental health and well-being (Chu & Zhang, 2019). While we are hoping that high school and collegiate sports will come back soon, please stay safe and do our part to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
- Chu, T. L., & Zhang, T. (2019). The roles of coaches, peers, and parents in athletes’ basic psychological needs: A mixed-studies review. International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 14(4), 569–588. https://doi.org/10.1177/1747954119858458
- Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The” what” and” why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227-268. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15327965PLI1104_01
- NCAA Student-Athlete COVID Well-Being Survey: https://ncaaorg.s3.amazonaws.com/research/other/2020/2020RES_NCAASACOVID-19SurveyReport.pdf
- Impact of COVID-19 on College Student Athletes’ Health, Performance, and Psychological Well-Being: https://sportpsych.unt.edu/sites/default/files/covid_executive_summary.final2.july8.2020.pdf
- Impact of School Closures and Sport Cancellations on the Health of Wisconsin Adolescent Athletes: https://www.wiaawi.org/Portals/0/PDF/Health/Covid/SchoolClosureImpact_McGuine.pdf