Elite athletes just as likely to report depressive symptoms as others, says study

It has long been believed that sports promote a sense of well-being. Elite athletes are generally viewed to live their dream life, but when it comes to mental illness, such as depression, it seems they are no different from the common man. Now, a new study by researchers at the University of Portsmouth suggests that elite athletes are just as likely to report mild or severe depressive symptoms as people who do not play any sport.

The research, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in March 2017, led by Dr. Paul Gorczynski from the University of Portsmouth, is the first of its kind to compare symptoms of depression in elite athletes and non-athletes. The study examined data that involved 1,545 high-performing athletes and 1,811 non-athletes in the age group of 12-41 years. Data for the research was taken from various studies conducted in the United States, Germany, Switzerland and Iran. Out of the athletes examined, 54 percent were women. Among non-athletes, women constituted 52 percent of the participants.

According to Gorczynski, the research is important because for long sports and exercises have been considered to relieve depressive symptoms; however, the same is not the case at an elite level. Some of the reasons for elite athletes to report depressive symptoms include the pressure to win, tough competition and training demands, sports injury and recovery, body image issues, and unexpected retirement. As per Gorczynski, the study clearly shows that much more work is needed to raise awareness of mental health issues among elite athletes.

Study calls for tackling mental health stigma

The lead author says that it is vital for sporting bodies, officials, athletes and coaches to create a climate in which athletes feel comfortable to seek support, and that it was vital to tackle mental health stigma and ensure access to proper care. The researchers concluded that high-performance athletes were just as likely as non-athletes to report their depressive symptoms. They also discovered that the likelihood of reporting depressive symptoms in women athletes and non-athletes was halved.

Although the study included data from different parts of the world, Gorczynski says that self-reported data has its limitation. As per him, there could be many more athletes out there who chose not to report their symptoms either due to the stigma attached to mental illness or because they want to appear tough. He said that in future he would like to enhance his research by using structured clinical interviews rather than just relying on self-reported data.

Road to recovery

Major depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the U.S. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2015, more than 16 million people aged 18 years or older in the country, representing 6.7 percent of the adult population, had at least one major depressive episode in the previous year. Though depression is a complex mental disorder, when diagnosed correctly, it can be treated with timely medical intervention. If left untreated, this mental illness can be devastating. For those trying to combat depression or any other mental illness, it is imperative to seek professional assistance immediately.

If you or a loved one is grappling with depression or any other mental health disorder, contact the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline for assistance. Our trained mental health counselors can help you find one of the best mental health programs for the mental health illness. Call at our helpline number 855-653-8178 or chat online with one of our representatives to know the finest mental health rehabilitation centers near you.