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Jan. 28, 2016 — The wrong key to the wrong lock?

Yesterday, the British Journal of Sports Medicine published a study done by Drexel University and Kean University researchers into the mental health of NCAA Division I athletes.

The three-year study, encompassing a limited group of 465 male and female participants in baseball, softball, basketball, cheerleading, crew, field hockey, lacrosse, track and field, soccer and tennis, found pronounced difference between female and male athletes, and differences across sports. For example, the depression rate amongst female track participants was at 38 percent, compared to men’s lacrosse at just 12 percent.

I’ll invite you to read the entire study (the abstract of which is here), but I think the researchers here have not done the best they could with the time and money they spent on this study.

First of all, the study pool was severely limited on several levels.

The study sample is 465, which may be a manageable number in most of these studies, but doesn’t begin to yield a decent answer given the 400,000 participants in NCAA athletics annually.

The scope is also needlessly limited.  The study examined athletes from Division I liberal arts colleges in the eastern part of the United States. Large state schools like the University of Connecticut, Ohio State University, and Arizona State were not considered.

Moreover, the study also left off two of the major athletic endeavors — football and ice hockey — that have led to the the highest rate of concussions. It’s repeated concussions and closed-head injuries which have been shown to lead to depression through CTE as young as a patient’s mid-20s.

But ultimately, I think the study falls short on its time scope: the data was only extracted over a period of three years, and did not take into account data from later in life — 10, 20, even 30 years after playing.

The conclusions and recommendations of the study are, therefore, somewhat limited, in recommending that mental health screenings need to occur as well as physical screenings while at the collegiate environment.

In the current discussion about concussions, CTE, and the protection of athletes, mental health screenings — not just testing for acuity and aptitude — need to take place at the collegiate level.

It’s the kind of thing that could save coaches and administrators a lot of difficulty. And it could have saved the life of Lawrence Phillips, the former Nebraska football player who killed himself in prison a couple of weeks ago.

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2 Comments»

  Steve S. wrote @

Two other items of interest here. 1. “Findings suggest that depression prevalence among college athletes is comparable to that found in the general college population.” If it’s comparable to the general population and the differences are not statistically significant then perhaps this is more of a commentary of our youth population than our athletes.

2. Since I can’t see the article, only the abstract, I wonder if there are statistically significant differences between team oriented sports and individual sports such as track, gymnastics, tennis, swimming, etc.

  Al Mattei wrote @

Steve, you do bring up a salient point because no “control” group of non-athletes is examined in the study. What are we dealing with in terms of young-adult depressive disorders?

Furthermore, what do team sports do to a person’s state of mind? How does winning and losing affect a person or a group of people? How about positive or negative coaching?

I still think the elephant in the room here is CTE, especially in men’s lacrosse where concussions actually went UP because of the hard-shell helmets that came into use around 1994. I especially fear for goalies who got pinged in the helmet repeatedly.


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