Report: High depression, anxiety reported in high school student-athletes after COVID-19 closures

Eric Chaloux
Updated: July 01, 2020 06:38 PM
Created: July 01, 2020 02:47 PM

Wisconsin High School sports were benched this spring in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, but new research from the University of Wisconsin—Madison shows most student-athletes' mental health was affected by the closures.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin's School of Medicine and Public Health found 68% of student-athletes reported symptoms of depression in May.


Moderate to severe depression was 3.5 times higher than in previous studies, according to researchers.

The study estimates 66,000 Wisconsin adolescent athletes are at risk for depression.

"The biggest take away from the research, the school closures and sports cancellations are associated with a significant negative impact on the health and well-being of high school student-athletes," said Timothy A. McGuine, PhD, University of Wisconsin researcher.

The project questioned high school student-athletes online from 71 of the 72 counties in the state.

Impact of school closures, sports cancellations on Wisconsin student-athletes

About 65% of Wisconsin student-athletes reported anxiety symptoms due to COVID-19 closures.

"Mental health experts say exercise and organized sports is a huge anti-depressant activity, that's an intervention we try to get kids into to reduce their anxiety — to reduce their depression — so it's all related,” said McGuine. “We think the mental health low scores are directly related to the low physical activity."

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association discussed the research at its meeting with member schools earlier this week.

"It caught our attention,” said Executive Director Dave Anderson. “We are using it daily to guide the decisions that we are making here."

WIAA is planning to move forward with fall sports, but it largely depends on the status of COVID-19 and if schools open, according to the group.

The WIAA offers tips and resources for parents when it comes to mental health and wellness here.

Meanwhile, University of Wisconsin researchers will shift to studying Minnesota high school student-athletes’ mental health in a new project.

"I looked at the data this morning, the results we see are very similar to what we saw in Wisconsin to depression and quality of life and physical activity," said McGuine.

When looking at the long-term impact, these disorders can become chronic and influence whether these individuals go on to college, use drugs/alcohol extensively or form meaningful lifelong relationships, researchers wrote in the report.

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