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Depression is not a normal part of aging. A recent study further supports this finding with its surprising results. Researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center found that when they compared current college athletes with retired college athletes, twice as many of the younger and more active college students suffered from depression than the athletes who had graduated.

Researchers were surprised by the study that included 663 athletes who had participated in up to 15 Division I NCAA sports. Students from nine universities were surveyed, including163 retired athletes and 117 current athletes.

The report in Sports Health revealed that while 8 percent of retired college athletes showed symptoms of depression, 17 percent of current college athletes showed depression symptoms.

College is a stressful time for both men and women as they try to figure out their career choice, struggle to study and maintain high grades, and sometimes balance study time and a job to pay for tuition and living expenses. The Georgetown research team anticipated that the multiple stressors of regular college life coupled with the stresses of an athlete would increase the risk of depression.

College athletes may suffer from the following stressors:

  • Pressure to win
  • Pressure to individually perform outstandingly
  • Rigorous training
  • Finding time to complete schoolwork and keep grades up
  • Lack of social time with friends

These stressors may raise the risk of depression, but researchers were surprised at how much it increased the risk of depression in these athletes.

Sometimes research studies can have very surprising and unexpected results. This recent study on depression in college athletes completely surprised the team of researchers from Georgetown. Daniel Merenstein, MD, and associate professor of family medicine and human science, said that his team of researchers believed that after students had left all of the social prestige, excitement, and anticipation of playing college sports, that they may experience heightened symptoms of depression. There was no research on recent college athletes and depression.

They expected the former college athletes to feel a loss of companionship with their teammates. They believed that the athletes’ loss of their revered sportsman identity could bring on depression. Their rigorous practice exercise could alleviate depression symptoms, but without it, the risk of depression would be greater. All of these factors led researchers to believe that former athletes, rather than current athletes, would suffer from depression.

College athletes may be at greater risk of depression than their family members or friends may realize. Dr. Merenstein and his team suggest that families, friends, and advisors watch for changes that may signal depression.

Radical changes in behavior or sleeping habits, as well as weight loss or gain, may signal that an  athlete may be capable on the field but need some mental health help off the field.

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