Winthrop University: Mental Health of Student-Athletes Explored in Faculty Research
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Mental Health of Student-Athletes Explored in Faculty Research

November 11, 2021

HIGHLIGHTS

  • David Schary, an associate professor in the Department of Physical Education, Sport and Human Performance, found that many of the college students have suffered from anxiety, depression and significant insomnia during the last year and a half.
  • Their findings were reported in the September issue of the Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology (Issue 15, Volume 3).

ROCK HILL, SOUTH CAROLINA - A Winthrop University faculty member wondered how the restrictive policies surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has affected student-athletes’ academic and athletic life.

David Schary, an associate professor in the Department of Physical Education, Sport and Human Performance, found that many of the college students have suffered from anxiety, depression and significant insomnia during the last year and a half. Social well-being was lower for student-athletes closer to graduation, such as juniors and seniors.

“These findings highlight the importance of psychosocial support, particularly in times of crisis, and indicate that tailored support might be beneficial at later stages of the collegiate years,” wrote Schary, who collaborated on the study with Carolina Lundqvist, a sports psychologist at Linkoping University in Sweden.

Their findings were reported in the September issue of the Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology (Issue 15, Volume 3).

Survey of Nearly 100 Student-Athletes

Ninety-nine student-athletes from two Division I institutions, including Winthrop, filled out assessments on their mental health between October and December 2020. 

Every participant reported experiencing at least one negative consequence from the pandemic. Six had tested positive for the virus; almost all knew someone who had been infected; a fourth of the participants knew at least one person who had serious complications or who died as a result; and half of the group reported being quarantined for 14 days after exposure to someone with COVID-19.

Schary said the long-term effect on student-athletes is still unknown, but the immediate impact reveals worrisome trends. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) found that rates of mental health concerns were up to two times higher than prepandemic rates. The most common stressors for the student-athletes were limited access to their sport, academic pressures, COVID-19 health concerns and financial worries.

Many of the student-athletes are given academic assistance during college but not assistance on the mental or well-being side. Thus they may not have been prepared to cope effectively with the major changes that resulted in their lives, Schary said. 

“As a population, student-athletes are generally in a sensitive development phase of their lives and sports careers where increased stress levels may be reported,” Schary said. “From both a mental health and sports performance perspective, it may therefore be beneficial to preemptively institute psychosocial interventions tailored to collegiate student-athletes with content adaptable to mental health awareness and crisis management.”

Recommendation for Athletics Departments

Providing psychosocial interventions tailored to collegiate student-athletes with content adaptable to mental health awareness and crisis management would give most student-athletes the necessary skills to remain functional during unexpected situations and provide a foundation for those that may need professional treatment, he added. 

“Our results indicate the psychosocial needs may change from freshman year to later college years; thus tailored psychosocial support may be needed to meet these changes for maximum efficiency,” Schary said. 

The article noted that because their study participants were predominately male and white that their pandemic experiences may have differed from minority and underrepresented groups. Also, student-athletes at Division II and III schools may face alternative challenges than were found in this study.

In conclusion, the article pointed out that since student-athletes’ needs vary and can change over time, that athletic department administrators and support personnel may want to regularly survey their students-athletes for the most appropriate types of support.

Schary and his co-author are working on a follow-up article.

For more information, contact Schary at scharyd@winthrop.edu.

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Last Updated: 7/13/22