The relationship between Sports and Depression

12 May 2021 10:13 am, by YorkshireSquare

The physical benefits of sports are well documented, and many people know that exercise is essential for the body. In addition, studies show a strong correlation between sports and mental illness and could help alleviate some of the symptoms of depression and social anxiety. However, that doesn’t make athletes immune to depression.

Depression is a serious condition and should not be taken lightly. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, visit BetterHelp. BetterHelp is a service that connects you with hundreds of licensed therapists that specialize in traditional psychological therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, and alternative therapies like humanistic and art therapy. For more information, visit Better Help today.

In this article, we’ll look into the relationship between sports and depression, the benefits of sports for alleviating symptoms, and also discuss its prevalence in athletes.

Benefits of Sports for Depression

Sports and physical activity have a wide array of physical benefits, such as more Vitamin D consumption if outside, higher oxygen levels in the blood, and improved heart and lung function. Sports, and physical activity in general, have also played a part in dampening symptoms of depression. For example, a 2014 study found that 56% of the 42,807 participants with depression (23,860) experienced less severe symptoms when incorporating exercise into their daily lives.

Researchers hypothesize that the change may come from the release of endorphins or other neurobiological reactions. For example, learning a new sport may push your mind to create new connections and run more efficiently. Another reason for its effect on depression is that sports provide opportunities for social interactions and bonds with other athletes. We are social creatures, and sports allow us to be social and active together.

Sports and Depression

In a study conducted in 2007, researchers studied levels of depression in college athletes and nonathletes. The researchers hypothesized that the stress of performing and winning made athletes more susceptible to depression and substance abuse. However, the results leaned away from the hypothesis, showing athletes were less likely to experience depression.

While cases of athletes with clinical depression did exist, they did not surpass depression levels in nonathletes. Researchers suggest that social support protects athletes from depression to a higher degree. Additionally, the study pointed to other factors that may lower the chances of developing depression, such as healthy sleep habits and a balanced diet.

Sports Injuries and Depression

Sports participation may explain lower levels of depression in athletes, but sports injuries are entirely different beasts. For example, a study in 1995 examined 916 NCAA Division I college football players and found that more than a third of players (33%) with injuries had felt moderate to severe depression during recovery. In another study, over half of the interviewed athletes stated they felt mild to severe depression.

Sports injuries keep athletes bedridden and off the field, which may cause changes in eating habits, restlessness, and lack of interest. For athletes, time away from training means they have to make up their losses, often falling behind and becoming ill-equipped for seasons. As a result, Depression can set in during and after recovery periods.

Studies show that concussions can cause behavior changes over time and may result in extreme depression and thoughts of suicide. For example, a 2017 study found that an astounding 99% of deceased football players showed signs of CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease that affects cognitive functions and behavioral changes. Anecdotal evidence also points to CTE as the cause for depression, as was the case with football players Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, who both died of suicide. Their postmortem brain scans showed that both players had advanced cases of CTE.

Final Thoughts

While sports may benefit the body and mind, it’s important to remember that depression and mental illness come in all types. Just because athletes are less likely to have a mental illness does not mean they’re immune to them may be living with depression or anxiety.

Sports culture has infamously downplayed mental illness and labeled it as ‘weak,’ encouraging players to toughen up and fight through the pain. However, this type of attitude needs to be reconciled, and mental illness must be taken as seriously as a torn ACL. If we’re not taking care of minds, our bodies may follow suit.

If you live with depression or other mental illness, reach out to a therapist today. There is no shame in prioritizing your mental health.