Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Levels of Psychological Distress of Canadian University Student-Athletes

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Levels of Psychological Distress of Canadian University Student-Athletes

Article excerpt

Introduction

Research into the mental health and distress of university students shows consistent, alarming findings (Hunt & Eisenberg, 2010; Stallman, 2010). The 2009 summary by the Ontario College Health Association (OCHA) of the mental health of Canadian university and college students reported that students are more than twice as likely to report psychological distress than non-students. A Canadian survey conducted in 2016 found that 46.1% of Canadian students felt "so depressed that it was difficult to function," and 65.4% of respondents felt "overwhelming anxiety" within the last 12 months (American College Health Association, 2016).

While research has identified that post-secondary students are at a higher risk of mental illness compared to non-students, additional factors influencing mental health have also been found. One of the most widely cited factors in both the general population and the university setting is gender, with females consistently displaying higher prevalence of depression, anxiety, and psychological distress as compared to males (Eisenberg, Golberstein, & Gollust, 2007; Hunt & Eisenberg, 2010; Mori, 2000; Stallman, 2010). A survey of 1,000 Canadian students found a significant gender difference on a global measure of mental health, with females scoring significantly higher than males on each of the 12 composite items (e.g., constantly under strain, been unhappy or depressed, lost sleep over worry). In addition to impacting the prevalence of mental health disorders, gender has also been shown to effect age of onset, frequency of symptoms, ability to adjust, and overall outcome (World Health Organization, 2018). Immigration status (Mori, 2000), grade point average, year of study (Stallman, 2010), and academic involvement (Adlaf, Gliksman, Demers, & Newton-Taylor, 2001) have also been found to be related to university students' mental health.

Literature Review

The mental health of university students is a significant social concern, and specific subgroups within this population warrant individual attention. One of these subpopulations is student-athletes, a significant and highly visible population, who preliminary research suggests may experience different levels of mental health compared to student non-athletes. Student-athletes are a unique group of students, representing over 12,000 registered athletes (USports, 2017), and many others participating at regional levels (e.g., Ontario University Athletics or Atlantic University Sport). Because of their dual-role situation, student-athletes have a significantly different university experience than their nonathlete counterparts, including different stressors and resources that may affect rates of mental health disorders (Davoren & Hwang, 2014; Miller & Hoffman, 2009; Wolanin, Hong, Marks, Panchoo, & Gross, 2016). Noted stressors of student-athletes identified in an American study included academic anxiety, demanding or negative coaching behaviours, injury risk, and sleep quality (Davoren & Hwang, 2014). Despite these identified stressors, results from this same study found that student-athlete status was a significant negative predictor for anxiety and depression. These results were consistent across genders with both male and female athletes reporting lower prevalence of anxiety and depression as compared to their same-sex, non-athlete peers (Davoren & Hwang, 2014). These results could be explained by evidence from Kimball and Freysinger (2003), that sport itself may act as a buffer against stress and that student-athletes have access to coaching and training staff who they perceive as potential resources for their mental health (Lopez & Levy, 2013; Moulton, Molstad, & Turner, 1997). Although the above statistics on student-athlete mental health are encouraging, these results were collected from American varsity athletes, and there are substantial differences between the Canadian and American collegiate sporting systems that cannot be ignored. …

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