Student athletes face the added stress of balancing high performance expectations
with rigorous academic expectations. Athletes must find time to complete their classwork
while training several hours per week. Athletes have many protective factors to help
minimize the effects of depression, however when depression hits, it can be harder
for athletes to reach out for the help they may need.
There are several types of depressive disorders and each has their own set of unique
symptoms as well as depression may manifest differently for each individual. The persistent
feeling of sadness or loss of interest that characterizes major depression can lead
to a range of behavioral and physical symptoms, including:
- Changes in sleep
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in energy level
- Lack of concentration
- Low feelings of self-esteem
- Changes in mood (guilt, anxiety, loss of interest in normal activities)
Depression can come in many forms, but is almost always a persistent feeling (i.e.,
it does not go away with time). Individuals with major depression may also experience thoughts
If your safety or the safety of someone you know is at-risk call 911 immediately.
For more information check out our depression information & resources.
Occasional anxiety is an expected part of life. Anxiety is hardwired into our brains.
It is part of the body's fight-or-flight response, which prepares us to act quickly
in the face of danger. It is a normal response to uncertainty, trouble, or feeling
unprepared. You might feel anxious when faced with a problem at school, before a big
game, or before making an important decision. But anxiety disorders involve more than
temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not
go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities
such as athletics, job performance, school work, and relationships.
Symptoms may include:
- Feeling nervous, irritable or on edge
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), sweating, and/or trembling
- Feeling weak or tired
- Difficulty concentrating
- Having trouble sleeping
For more information check out our anxiety information & resources.
Athletics can be a place where both disordered eating and eating disorders can occur
in high frequency. Disordered eating is classified as a spectrum of harmful or often ineffective eating
behaviors that attempt to manage weight or attain lean muscle. While, eating disorders
are more persistent disturbances of eating behaviors that impair physical or psychological
For more information on specific types of eating disorders check out our eating disorder information & resources.
Student athletes may experience more stress than non-athletes because they deal with
both transitioning away from home and the pressures to perform in their sport. There
is often an emphasis on how reducing body weight/fat can lead to better performance
and to an athlete who is fighting for a spot to compete, this sets up a dangerous
mindset. This idea potentially can lead some to partake in dangerous eating habits
to improve their chances of playing without realizing the physical and mental toll.
Athletes who are struggling with eating may not ask for help and might be difficult
to recognize as needing treatment. Once an athlete is recognized, some may fear that
having to go through treatment will decrease their athletic performance or that they
What can be done? Coaches and staff involved with student athletes are encouraged
to become aware of disordered eating and eating disorder symptoms. Additionally, stigma associated with seeking mental health needs to be eliminated
and those with influence play a key role in encouraging timely interventions.
As previously discussed, college student athletes face a variety of difficult and
unique circumstances that may lead to experiences of stress, anxiety, depression,
and a variety of other mental health concerns. College student athletes are also susceptible
to the college effect, which occurs when binge drinking (i.e. 4-5 drinks in 2 hours)
and other substance behaviors skyrocket at the start of a semester. This leads to
sharp increases in sexual violence, alcohol poisoning, and other dangerous consequences.
According to the NCAA, student athletes report higher rates of binge drinking compared
to other students on campus. Additionally, one in five male student-athletes who use
alcohol report drinking 10 or more drinks in an outing when they drink. Interestingly,
fewer student athletes report engaging in marijuana use compared to their non-athlete
Although marijuana and alcohol are the most commonly used substances on college campuses,
concern is growing for misuse of prescription medications, including narcotics. In
their studies, the NCAA has found that less than 5 percent of student-athletes report
using prescribed ADHD stimulant medication, however, more than 5 percent report using
these medications without a prescription.
Additionally, a larger percentage of student-athletes are prescribed narcotics for
pain medication compared to the general student body, which is understandable given
the frequency of injury and pain in competitive athletics, but use without prescription
warrants concern given the potential for addiction and/or fatal overdose.
Not all student-athletes with substance use problems consume alcohol or drugs in settings
where the signs are easily visible. In fact, some may choose to consume these substances
alone to avoid drawing attention to any potential signs. Understanding the signs of
misuse can help you identify areas of concern in a friend or peer.
Alcohol: Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, decreasing concentration, reaction
time, strength, and endurance. Signs of alcohol misuse include:
- being irresponsible regarding commitments or responsibilities to school, sport and
- Consuming alcohol in situations that are dangerous to themselves and others
Stimulants (amphetamines, cocaine, and medications for ADHD): Stimulant substances increase heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, leading
people to feel nervous or jittery. Signs of misuse include:
- Rapid speech of movements
- Difficult concentrating
- Lack of appetite
Marijuana: Marijuana is a psychoactive substance that can impact athletic performance by slowing
reaction time, decreasing motor and eye hand coordination, and slowing perception
of time. Signs of misuse include:
Talking to a student athlete whose substance use behaviors are a concern can be difficult
due to the fact that students may fear being honest about their use. This could be
due to worries about losing scholarships, ability to play, fear of punishment or student
conduct sanctions, and many other concerns. It is important to express concern for
the student without pushing them to tell you personal details. Instead, encourage
use of on-campus resources, including the substance use counselors available at the
Counseling Center. We also have an Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Prevention Center, staffed with health educators and peer educator who can deliver workshops and presentations
to athletic teams and sports clubs to offer harm-reduction-based education and activities.
You can also learn more substance use facts by visiting their website.
Want to learn more about your own substance use behaviors? Take our free, anonymous
screenings to get personalized feedback about your use: