Following two NCAA student-athlete welfare studies conducted in 2020, student-athletes continue to report high levels of mental health problems.
The data indicated that rates of mental exhaustion, anxiety and depression have seen little change since fall 2020 and remain 1.5 to twice as high as those identified before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, student-athletes reported lower levels of despair in fall 2021 than in the first year of the pandemic.
The association-wide survey, open from November 17 to December 17. 13, received responses from over 9,800 student-athletes. It was designed by NCAA Research in collaboration with the NCAA Sport Science Institute and Division I, II, and III Student-Athlete Advisory Committees.
This study did not measure student-athlete responses relative to the overall college student population, which is also concerned with these mental health issues.
When they answered the mental health support questions, 69% of female sport participants and 63% of male sport participants agreed or strongly agreed that they know where to go on campus if they have mental health problems.
Under the constitution of the NCAA, each member school is responsible for facilitating an environment that enhances physical and mental health within athletics by ensuring access to appropriate resources and an open commitment to physical and mental health.
But when asked if they would feel comfortable seeking support from an on-campus mental health provider, less than half of women’s sports and men’s sports said they would agree or strongly agree with that statement ( 48% and 46% respectively).
Continuing awareness efforts on campus is one way to try to change the disconnect between knowing where to go if mental health problems arise and feeling comfortable seeking such assistance.
“A lot of what influences management on this topic is the kind of conversations that take place on a campus about mental health,” said Scott Hamilton, clinical mental health consultant at DePauw. “Are there groups on campus, both through the athletics department and through counseling services, that use their voices to help reduce stigma?”
Hamilton is also the student-athlete mental health coordinator at DePauw. In that role, Hamilton witnessed firsthand how student-athlete attitudes can change.
He said it’s fascinating to conduct mindfulness training or psychological flexibility training with a team.
“Within a week or two, you start seeing some familiar faces show up at the counseling center,” said Hamilton, who worked at DePauw for 12 years. “When college campuses are willing to have open conversations about the importance of mental health, mentally caring for oneself can ease the apprehension of student-athletes seeking help.”
The Sport Science Institute provides health and safety resources to college athletes, coaches, track and field administrators and campus partners. Mental health educational resources include a review of best practices, data and research, summits and task forces.
The survey included a question about teammates who took each other’s mental health problems seriously. 65% of female sports participants and 58% of male sports participants agreed or strongly agreed that they did. In this sense, 56% of male and female sports participants reported knowing how to help a teammate suffering from mental health problems.
When asked if they felt their mental health was a priority for their athletics department, 55 percent of male sports participants and 47 percent of female sports student-athletes agreed or strongly agreed.
When asked whether their coaches took their mental health issues seriously, 59 percent of male sports participants agreed or strongly agreed, and 50 percent of female sports participants did.
Mental health problems during the pandemic
Mental health problems remained higher among the student-athlete demographic subgroups that commonly exhibit higher rates of mental distress (women, black student-athletes, those identifying on the queer spectrum, and those reporting family economic difficulties).
This survey, along with the two previous surveys, asked participants if they felt mentally exhausted, were suffering from sleep difficulties, experienced overwhelming anxiety, felt sad, felt a sense of loss, or felt that things were hopeless.
The largest percentage point decrease was seen among women surveyed on sports in terms of feeling very lonely or hopeless.
16% of female sports participants said they felt very lonely consistently or almost every day, a drop of 5 percentage points from the autumn 2020 survey. 10% of female sports respondents reported feeling hopeless, compared 16% who answered this way in the previous survey.
38% of those who played female sports and 22% of male sports participants reported feeling mentally exhausted constantly or almost every day, according to the most common concern.
Student-athletes expressed more optimism about their ability to keep up and pass courses in Fall 2021 than in Spring and Fall 2020.
Half of the student-athletes were satisfied with their ability to strike a balance between academic and extracurricular activities, including athletics. The self-reported toll was higher among male sports athletes (56%) than female sports athletes (47%).
Factors relating to the transfer
Since the Division I governance structure changed the one-time exception transfer rules to include baseball, football, men’s and women’s basketball, and men’s ice hockey before the 2021-22 academic year, transfers have become a more popular topic. hot for the media and fans.
Eight percent of all student-athletes surveyed indicated they were likely to move at some point during the 2021-22 academic year.
Mental health (61% female sports participants, 40% male sports participants), conflict with a coach or teammates (56% female sports participants, 34% male sports participants) and playing time (34% female sports participants, 36% male sports participants).
Race and gender equity
Student-athletes continue to volunteer in their communities, take part in social and civic engagement activities, and learn more about injustice on their own.
84% of female sports respondents and 78% of male sports respondents said they occasionally or frequently volunteer. Two-thirds of male and female sports participants said they had occasionally or frequently discussed politics.
Regarding the commitment to racial justice in the previous six months, 81% of female sports participants and 73% of male sports participants played an active role in learning more about race or racial justice on their own. Over 60% of both female and male sports participants said they had conversations with teammates focused on race or racial justice.
In the commitment to gender equity, 72% of female sports participants and 56% of male sports participants reported that they actively sought to learn more about gender equity on their own. 58% of women and 46% of men have occasional or frequent conversations with teammates focused on gender equity.
Student-athletes most likely indicated a desire for educational resources on fiscal and financial literacy; career planning; navigate in opportunities of name, image and likeness; and professional opportunities in sport.
50% of female sports participants and 49% of male sports participants wanted more resources in fiscal literacy and education.
When it comes to navigating NIL opportunities, 42% of male sports participants and 39% of female sports participants said they wanted more educational resources.
41% of male sports participants and 35% of female sports respondents wanted resources related to career opportunities in their sport.