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Collegiate Athletes and Mental Health Issues: What are the Risks?

Collegiate Athletes and Mental Health Issues: What are the Risks?

The mental health of the nation’s collegiate athletes is a topic of significant media attention in recent years. In 2014, Madison Holleran, a freshman track athlete at the University of Pennsylvania, was only 19-yearsold when she took her life. That same year, Kosta Karageorge, defensive lineman for The Ohio State University, died at 22, a suicide presumably linked to concussions and confusion.

Tragic stories such as Holleran’s and Karageorge’s have pushed the issue of mental illness in college athletes into the mainstream media and to the attention of the NCAA, which established its own Mental Health Task Force in 2013. While college is already considered an at-risk time for the development of mental illness, the significant demands placed on college athletes may represent additional risk factors for mental illness in this population.

Injury, poor performance and the stress of balancing academic commitments with elite athletics are a few unique issues athletes face on a daily basis. Despite growing recognition from governing collegiate organizations, existing research into the realm of athletes’ mental illness, specifically depression, is thin.

Charlie Cox, a kinesiology and health education graduate student, is working under the guidance of Dr. Lindsay Ross-Stewart, assistant professor of kinesiology and health education, to poll a national sample of NCAA college athletes across the country. Cox hopes to determine a prevalence rate for depression symptoms and assess various risk factors for college athletes.

These factors include gender, race, academic class, sport competition status, scholarships received, injury and depression history. Additionally, athletes are asked to provide their opinion regarding the accessibility of mental health treatment education and other support structures within their universities.

Cox’s study will provide national insight into the current level of care and mental health support received by college athletes and highlight potential areas of improvement for university administrations seeking to meet the needs of their student athletes.

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