Academic journal article International Journal of Child Health and Human Development

Sports, Athletes, and Suicide

Academic journal article International Journal of Child Health and Human Development

Sports, Athletes, and Suicide

Article excerpt


The main considerations regarding suicide and sports participation are whether young athletes are at an increased or reduced risk for suicide beacause of their sport participation and whether it is possible to predict or identify athletes at risk for suicide. Epidemiologic studies show that suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people (aged 10-24 years) in the United States and a previous attempt is the strongest indicator of suicide (1-3). It is important to acknowledge the significant lifelong benefits of regular physical activity, and for children and adolescents, physical activity within the context of sport participation. In adolescents, studies have shown that regular physical activity is associated with improved mental health and well-being and participation in sports confers additional protection with lower symptoms of anxiety and depression (4, 5).

Sports participation can contribute to a child and adolescent's overall psychosocial development in a number of ways, including:

* Improves self-esteem, self-perception, selfconfidence

* Enhances personal coping abilities

* Increases motivation

* Provides opportunity for self-evaluation and social comparison

* Enhances social competence

* Provides socialization experiences for the athletes and family

* Provides experience in dealing with authority

* Fosters competitiveness, teamwork

* Fosters independence

* Teaches sportsmanship and fair play

Sports participation and suicide risk

Taliaferro et al. (4) investigated the relationship between physical activity, sports participation, and adolescent suicidal behavior based on data from the 2005 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Their analysis showed that of the 13,857 adolescents surveyed, 16.9% has seriously considered attempting suicide, 13.3% had made a suicide plan, 9% had attempted suicide, and 4.2% had attempted suicide multiple times. Close to 80% had engaged in physical activity at least once per week and 54% had participated in sports. Taliaferro et al. (4) found significantly lower rates of hopelessness and suicidality among male and female athletes, compared to their nonathletic counterparts; a significant relationship between frequent, vigorous activity and reduced risk of hopelessness and suicidality among male adolescents; low level of physical activity associated with a higher level of hopelessness and suicidality among females; females engaging in weight loss activity were associated with a higher risk for suicidality; and for both males and females sports participation was associated with a decreased risk of hopelessness and suicidality (4). Taliaferro et al. (4) suggested that mechanisms other that physical activity may contribute to a lower risk for suicide in athletes (4). The two very important such protective mechanisms are purported to be social support and social integration that is facilitated by the milieu of sport participation (4).

Sabo et al. (3) looked at the relationship between high school athletic participation and adolescent suicide in a nationally representative sample of 16,000 US high school students (3). Their study found that for both male and female youth, participation in sports was significantly associated with reduced the odds of considering suicide. Sports participation was also found to be associated with higher rates of injury to male athletes who attempted suicide. The study suggests that for both genders, athletes may be less likely than their non-athlete counterparts to consider, plan, and attempt suicide and that higher degrees of athletic participation may be associated with reduced risk for suicidality. Among male adolescents who attempt suicide, athletes may be at greater risk for resultant injury than non-athletes and female athlete counterparts.

In terms of older adolescents, Rao (6, 7) and colleagues conducted a retrospective cohort study to look at suicide incidence among National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletes. …

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