Nearly a quarter of student athletes show signs of depression

Credit: Sander van der Wel via Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Sander van der Wel via Wikimedia Commons

By Angel Ospina | Published Marc 3, 2016

Collegiate sports are perceived by many to be an escape from reality where the student athlete can stay in shape, form friendships that will last a lifetime and most importantly play the sport he or she loves.

Unfortunately, student athletes aren’t escaping reality but instead are stepping into a reality with extra pressure and stress, stemming from playing the sports that they love so much.

A recent study concluded that nearly a quarter of student-athletes show signs of depression. The study was conducted by Andrew Wolanin, the Director of Kean’s Department of Advanced Studies in Psychology, and alumnus Michael Gross, along with researchers from Drexel University.

“Athletes are often viewed as being healthier, but in our experience there were a lot of mental health issues that were not being addressed or recognized,” said Wolanin, who was the chief investigator of the study.

“We wanted to do a study to determine how prevalent depression is in athletes to see if more services could be implemented,” he stated.

According to the study, previous researches caused a common misconception by many scholars to conclude that student athletes “may be at decreased risk for mental health issues due to increased levels of exercise.”

The recent study led by Kean alumni challenged that claim and raised awareness to a problem among student athletes throughout the nation.

“We both have a real big interest in the mental health of student athletes, and trying to find ways to not only identify how some of the issues that they are going through but also find ways to treat them,” said Gross, who obtained
his doctorate in Psychology from Kean last year.

The study measured 465 NCAA Division I student athletes at one institution over the course of three years by using a demographic questionnaire along with the (CES-D) Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale.

The tests and questionnaires were done at the student athletes yearly spring sports medicine physicals.

According to the study, 23.7 percent of the student athletes showed a “relevant level of depressive symptoms,” and 6.3 percent showed severe levels of depression.

Gross believes that excessive time demand may be one of the many reasons as to why so many student athletes show signs of depressions.

“They are balancing life as an athlete while also balancing academics, Gross said via the phone. “There can also be extreme pressure to perform in both areas, which non-athletes do not have. “

Increased risk for physical injury, dealing with coaches and teammates on a daily basis, and the transition as a high school athlete to a college athlete are all other factors that Wolanin and Gross believe to be some of the reasons why student athletes may be depressed.

The study also concluded that women student athletes are almost twice as much likely to show signs of depression than a man.

“Coming from playing all four years here at Kean, there is more of a label on us (athletes) to do better in school and better on the field,” said Jordan Melillo, a senior on Kean’s field hockey team.

“There’s certain days that everything feels like it’s coming to the end of the world,” she said jokingly as she answered a question pertaining to the study’s conclusion of women.

Regardless of what gender the student athlete is or what sport they play, the findings of the study cause for action.

Wolanin believes many things could be done moving forward to help student athletes who show signs of depression.

“Reduce the stigma associated with mental health problems in athletes. Add psychological services as an integrated part of sports medicine and athletic training in athletic departments. Increase periodic screening of mental health
issues in athletes. Provide psychological support services to athletes after injury or other negative sporting events,” Wolanin stated.

The university of Michigan has a program called Athletes Connected, which puts student athlete’s mental health as a priority of the school.

Other big schools, such as Ohio State University have also tackled the issue, as a sports psychologist is available at all times for the student athletes.

Kean does not have a sports psychologist but with the new study it may be something the university looks into.

Kean does have the Kean Counseling Center, where student athletes may seek help if needed. The center is available for all enrolled students, at no additional cost.

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