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Survey: Pandemic Impacts Student-Athlete Mental Health

Jason Scott

A survey of nearly 25,000 NCAA student-athletes found that many continue to suffer adverse mental health effects attributable to the pandemic.

The survey, which was conducted between Oct. 6 and Nov. 2 of 2020 and had respondents spanning NCAA Division I, II and III, found elevated levels of such mental health concerns as exhaustion, anxiety, hopelessness and feelings of being depressed. These results were similar to trends identified in a survey conducted in the spring. Demographic groups that typically display higher rates of these issues — including women, student-athletes of color, LGBTQ student-athletes, those who live alone or off-campus, or those reporting family economic hardship — reported even higher levels of mental distress.

Respondents identified a number of issues taking a toll on their mental health, including academic concerns and financial worries. Notably, however, lack of access to sport and COVID-19 health concerns were identified by 33 percent and 31 percent of respondents, respectively, as having an adverse affect on their mental wellbeing.

The NCAA release also noted that many student-athletes of color cited racism or racial trauma as a key factor negatively impacting their mental health. Black athletes noted race-related concerns at a rate of 31 percent, more than double that of non-Black student-athletes of color (13 percent). While just 7 percent of respondents reported mental health difficulties due to “personal experiences of racism or racial trauma,” that number rose to 31 percent for Black student-athletes. Personal experiences of racism were also reported by 10 percent of Latinx respondents, 3 percent of white respondents and 14 percent that checked “other.”

Student-athletes that attended virtual classes reported that they were less likely to feel positive about their ability to keep up academically. 

While survey respondents indicated gains in some areas of their mental health relative to the survey conducted in the spring, new issues related to graduation and career planning were identified. Student-athletes nearing graduation said that the pandemic has altered their graduation timelines, with 18 percent of male seniors and 12 percent of female seniors indicating they expected a delayed graduation date. Nearly half of all seniors surveyed said they had either lost or opted out of a professional opportunity such as a job or internship as a result of the pandemic. 62 percent of seniors surveyed reported that the pandemic has negatively affected their career planning efforts.

Of the nearly 25,000 athletes to take the survey, 64 percent reported almost always following social distancing guidelines. That number was as high as 71 percent in athletes of color and 67 percent in women. The highest number of pandemic-related quarantines were found in Division I, where 44 percent of respondents said they had to isolate or be quarantined at some point.

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