Oct 10, 2022
Mental Health of Student-Athletes Improve Since COVID-19

During the AAP National Conference & Exhibition, presenters shared findings of decreased mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, among student-athletes following a return to sports after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Co-author Drew Watson, MD, MS, is a member of the department of orthopedics and rehabilitation at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health as well as a team physician for the Badgers athletic department.

mental healthDuring his presentation, Watson noted that sports were taken away across the nation as a response to the pandemic, youth athletes saw a significant increase in mental health issues.

An article from Healio.com highlighted the findings of Watson, which were shared at the AAP National Conference & Exhibition. Below is an excerpt from Healio.com article.

“Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, we found that adolescent athletes reported low levels of physical activity and quality of life and very high levels of anxiety and depression after school and sports were postponed or canceled,” Watson told Healio.

Watson and colleagues compared results of surveys completed by 13,002 adolescent athletes across the country in May 2020 with those completed by 4,419 teens in May 2021. The surveys included questions from the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 Item scale (PHQ-9), the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7) item scale, and the Hospital for Special Surgery’s Function and Activity Brief Scale.

The researchers found that the proportion of teens reporting no anxiety was significantly higher in the spring of 2021 than it was in the spring of 2020 — 57.9% vs. 40.5%. GAD-7 total scores showed a decline from 7 in 2020 to 4.9 in 2021 (P < .001). Similar changes were seen with depression, with the proportion of athletes reporting minimal to no signs of it increasing to 62.1% in 2021 from 38.4% in 2020. Specifically, PHQ-9 total scores dropped from 7.6 in 2020 to 4.6 in 2021.

Athletes in 2021 also reported significantly higher levels of physical activity and quality of life.

Watson mentioned that overall, adolescents who returned to sports reported similar levels of physical activity to what was seen before the pandemic, “but they continue to report lower quality of life and higher levels of anxiety and depression. So while returning to sports appears to have important benefits, mental health is going to be a vitally important priority among young athletes beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.”

He added that although it is possible to “encourage the development of infrastructure that promotes physical activity, the prioritization and funding of physical education in schools, and the support of community-based programming that reduces barriers to access,” there is a more crucial endgame.

“Perhaps the most important thing that we can do more broadly undermines the cultural stigma around mental health and create an environment that facilitates conversations about mental health with young athletes so we can identify individuals at risk and get them the help they need,” Watson said.

To read the full story from Healio.com, click here.

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