College Athletes and DepressionPosted on October 30, 2013
There is a common perception that college athletes are tough and should be able to resolve problems that might lead to depression. In fact, just the opposite might be true. Having to handle what is essentially a full-time job and keep up with schoolwork might leave them feeling less well-adjusted than non-athletes. Along with the stigma attached to mental health issues, especially in the sporting world where mental toughness is as valued as physical toughness, it can be difficult for athletes to seek help.
- trouble adjusting to the transition from high school to college
- overtraining or injury
- pressure to perform
- lack of free time
- stress from schoolwork
Signs/symptoms of depression include*:
- Low or sad moods, often with episodes of crying
- Irritability or anger
- Feeling worthless, helpless and hopeless
- Eating and sleeping disturbance (reflected in an increase or decrease)
- A decrease in energy and activity levels with feelings of fatigue or tiredness.
- Decreases in concentration, interest and motivation
- Social withdrawal or avoidance
- Negative thinking
- Thoughts of death or suicide. In severe cases, intent to commit suicide with a specific plan, followed by one or more suicide attempts.
While there is often pressure to get the athlete back to play as soon as possible, it’s important that the athlete’s health and safety remains the highest priority.
Researchers have found that injured athletes experience clinically significant depression 6 times as often as non-injured athletes.
It’s important for parents and coaches to recognize their limitations when trying to help someone with a mood disorder. The best way to help is to be able to recognize the symptoms and refer the athlete to a professional. An athlete will need a good support system in order to recover fully, whether it comes from a coach, family, friends or a therapist.
*This is by no means an exhaustive list, but is intended as a list of common symptoms.
References from the SIRC Collection:
1. Gagne M. A DIFFERENT KIND OF PAIN. Sports Illustrated. December 12, 2011;115(23):82.
2. Hart C. THE PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPACT OF INJURY. Triathlon Life. Fall2009 2009;12(4):44-45.
3. Maniar S, Chamberlain R, Moore N. Suicide risk is real for student-athletes. NCAA News. November 7, 2005;42(23):4-20.
4. Potera C, Delhagen K. Beat the injury blues. Runner’s World. October 1990;25(10):18.
5. Reardon C, Factor R. Sport Psychiatry A Systematic Review of Diagnosis and Medical Treatment of Mental Illness in Athletes. Sports Medicine.
6. Weigand S, Cohen J, Merenstein D. Susceptibility for Depression in Current and Retired Student Athletes. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach. May 2013;5(3):263-266.