Sports and Their Effects on Mental Health

You’ve probably heard it before: exercise and moving around can do a lot for your mental health. It’s a great form of stress relief, helps get your mind off of things, and of course, has benefitsdavid-tran-484920-unsplash for your physical health too.

One way of getting physically active are through school and club sports. Organized teams like football, soccer, volleyball (the list can go on and on and on) are an easy way to do this. There’s a social aspect as well, because it gives you the opportunity to interact with peers who share an interest in that sport too.

There is a lot of evidence supporting just how great playing sports can be for adolescent mental health. This is particularly true in boys, specifically finding that depression rates are lower for those who play sports. Studies have also shown that those who play sports find their coaches and/or their parents to be key isaiah-rustad-1073714-unsplashsupportive individuals in their lives and that they have a strong desire to help those who may be struggling with their mental health. Bonds are strong with those who play sports together and general team participation in sports have been found to have antidepressant effects.

Even with all this information, however, the rates of of anxiety and depression among scholastic athletes have increased in the past decade. Organizations and colleges have started to take note, and are trying to spread awareness on the issue.

The reasons for the spike supports the theories that younger generations have been experiencing more intensive and increased pressures to meet massimo-sartirana-562839-unsplashnearly impossible standards. That is, adolescents and young adults today are told that in order to succeed, they have to be “perfect” at something, and the best way to do that is to start it early and engage in activities related to it as much as possible. In the case of sports, adolescents may be training for tons of hours during the week, having a monitored and strict diet, and losing sleep to train as much as possible.

The treatment of student athletes as “professionals” can very easily lead to exhaustion, not physically, but mentally as well. Student athletes’ lives aren’t all about the sports – as the name suggests, they’re students as well. Spending tons of time training means that they have less time do to do homework and travelling for william-iven-22451-unsplashgames can take away valuable studying time.

This is especially difficult for the adolescent brain. We talked last week about how the adolescent brain has a lot of plasticity, and because it is still developing, can be affected by extreme situations and stress. Adolescents can be severely affected by the pressures that their coaches, parents, and even their own brain places on them, which can then in turn affect their mental health to a more extreme level.

Playing sports has an outstanding effect on physical health and well-being, but going too far can actually cause a lot of damage. The same thing can happen to your mental health too, so it’s important to be careful and check-in as much as possible to see how you’re feeling both mentally and physically.


Do or did you play sports? What was your experience like? Did you find support in your teammates or coaches? Was mental health discussed? Share your experiences below!

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Hi! The moderator is a research team member with a background in behavioral health. We're here to help answer your questions and stimulate some great conversation! We don't provide therapy and are not available 24-7 so please if you are in crisis, go to our crisis page: https://sova.pitt.edu/i-need-help-now We look forward to talking to you!

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