Infectious Disease

Teens’ mental health improves following return to sports

October 08, 2022

1 min read

Source/Disclosures

sources:

Watson D, et al. The influence of return to sport on mental health, physical activity and quality of life among adolescent athletes during COVID-19. Presented at: AAP National Conference & Exhibition; october 7-11, 2022; Anaheim, Calif.

Disclosures:
Watson reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Reports of anxiety and depression decreased among student athletes who returned to sports following disruptions caused by the pandemic, according to a presentation at the AAP National Conference & Exhibition.

co-author Drew Watson MD, MS, is a member of the department of orthopedics and rehabilitation at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and team physician at the University of Wisconsin’s athletics department. He noted that the loss of sports among the nation’s youth athletes at the start of the pandemic had been associated with dramatic increases in mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

Watson, et al.

“Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, we found that adolescent athletes reported low levels of physical activity and quality of life and very high levels of anxiety and depression after school and sports were postponed or canceled,” Watson told Healio.

Watson and colleagues compared results of surveys completed by 13,002 adolescent athletes across the country in May 2020 with those completed by 4,419 teens in May 2021. The surveys included questions from the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 Item scale (PHQ-9), the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7) item scale, and the Hospital for Special Surgery’s Function and Activity Brief Scale.

The researchers found that the proportion of teens reporting no anxiety was significantly higher in the spring of 2021 than it was in the spring of 2020 — 57.9% vs. 40.5% . GAD-7 total scores showed a decline from a 7 in 2020 to 4.9 in 2021 (P < .001). Similar changes were seen with depression, with the proportion of athletes reporting minimal to no signs of it increasing to 62.1% in 2021 from 38.4% in 2020. Specifically, PHQ-9 total scores dropped from 7.6 in 2020 to 4.6 in 2021.

Athletes in 2021 also reported significantly higher levels of physical activity and quality of life.

Watson mentioned that overall, adolescents who returned to sports reported levels of physical activity similar to what was seen before the pandemic, “but they continue to report lower quality of life and higher levels of anxiety and depression. So while returning to sports appears to have important benefits, mental health is going to be a vitally important priority among young athletes beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.”

He added that although it is possible to “encourage the development of infrastructure that promotes physical activity, the prioritization and funding of physical education in schools, and the support of community-based programming that reduces barriers to access,” there is a more crucial endgame .

“Perhaps the most important thing that we can do more broadly is undermine the cultural stigma around mental health and create an environment that facilitates conversations about mental health with young athletes so we can identify individuals at risk and get them the help they need,” Watson said.

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American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition

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