Jenica D. Alvarez, Ashley Bruce, Sabrina R. Fordham, Andrew J. Jakiel, Blake Podsen, Parker N. Hyde. University of North Georgia, Dahlonega, GA.

BACKGROUND: Collegiate student-athletes are a unique population given their ability to couple additional stressors with the physical, emotional, and mental demands of playing an intercollegiate sport. As a possible result of the additional stressors, maladaptive behaviors often evolve which play a significant role in mental health, academic performance, and student success. The purpose of this research was to investigate and report on mental health conditions that impact student-athletes, with emphasis conducted on a comparison of stress levels and stress coping mechanisms between male and female student-athletes. METHODS: A non-experimental quantitative survey research design was used for this research. This study utilized the American College Health Association—National College Health Assessment III (ACHA-NCHA III) to survey collegiate student-athletes (n=89) at a NCAA Division II institution. The 66-component online survey provided self-reported data about general health topics within seven content areas: (a) health, health education, and safety; (b) alcohol, tobacco, and drugs; (c) sex behavior, perceptions, and contraception; (d) weight, nutrition and exercise; (e) mental and physical health; (f) impediments to academic performance; and (g) demographics. RESULTS: Female student-athletes demonstrated higher frequencies of moderate stress when compared to males (67.4% and 40.9%, respectively). Female student-athletes experienced a higher frequency of serious psychological distress when compared to males (9.8% compared to 4.5%, respectively). The percent of student-athletes reporting a positive suicide screening was 9.0%, including 6.8% of males and 11.6% of females. The percent of student-athletes reporting a suicide attempt in the last 12 months was 3.4%; 4.5% of male student-athletes and 2.4% of female student-athletes. CONCLUSION: With the rise in mental health problems, in conjunction with the demanding college lifestyle of student-athletes, ways to support student-athletes’ mental wellbeing—and ultimately their success—need to be addressed. The occurrence of stress was expressed by 93% of the student-athlete participants. If left untreated, stress can lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts. The results contribute empirical evidence towards recommendations for intervention strategies among student-athletes, such as the employment of a sports psychologist, implementation of a mental health support team, future research to track trends over time, and teaching student-athletes how to manage stress. Just as collegiate student-athletes benefit by receiving proper physical care from the athletic trainers and coaching staff, student-athletes would also benefit from athletic departments investing in mental health services.

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