While it may be easy to assume that the unique pressures placed on collegiate student-athletes would make maintaining their mental health difficult, a new study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison indicates that, at least on that campus, student-athletes are doing just fine between the ears.
The study, led by professor of nursing Traci Snedden, was published in the American Journal of Health Promotion. In it, a group of 842 student-athletes and 1,322 non-athlete undergraduates were given a standardized survey on their physical and mental health called the VR-12. Non-athlete students were subdivided into groups based on their activity level. Those groups were comprised of club athletes, intramural sports players, regular exercisers and physically inactive students.
According to a university release on the study, the student-athletes posted mental component scores that were substantially higher than non-athlete counterparts. Interestingly, the more physically active the students were, the better they scored on the mental health component.
While the study itself doesn’t point to any specific causes for the disparity, Snedden described a few plausible explanations.
“Division I athletic programs have psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health advisors available to them to support their athletes’ general mental health needs, and keep their head in the game,” she says in the release. “Similarly, UW-Madison is doing a great job offering mental health services to all of our students (athletes and non-athletes), recently launching a number of important initiatives and supporting a very active campus-based NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) group. But our undergrads are probably, like many people, still struggling with ‘What do I do? Nobody cares. Can I tell anybody?’ “
Snedden also suggested that the academic support resources made available to student-athletes could help them to better manage stress associated with schoolwork.