Depression in Athletes

Depression is a mental health disorder that interferes with the physical and psychological well-being of an individual. Athletes are at risk for depression--high pressure sporting events, personal and team expectations and individual disposition may increase bouts of depression in susceptible athletes. Identification and treatment of depression in athletes helps relieve symptoms and decrease the depression.

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Depression and Athletes

One in ten Americans experience depression, according to the National Institute of Health. Genetics and external stresses are common causes of depression. Regardless of how physically fit an athlete is, genetics or chemical imbalances may influence the development of depression. Individual and personal sports create a high pressure environment that focuses on winning and achieving progress. Setbacks, whether because of a loss or an injury, may challenge an athlete's esteem and feelings of self worth and contribute to the development of depression.


Symptoms of depression include emotional withdrawal from friends and usual activities, moodiness, crying, changes in appetite and weight, feelings of anxiety and sadness, a decrease in sex drive and feelings of anger. Indecision, fatigue and a lack of concentration are additional symptoms of depression. If an athlete experiences symptoms of depression, he should contact his doctor.

Sports Environment & Depression

Categorized by society as physically and mentally fit and tough, athletes are represented as pillars of health and well-being in culture. Societal projections and expectations make it challenging for athletes to seek mental health help. According to Russ Johnson (former infielder for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays), physical ailments are tolerated in professional sports, while athletes with depression face stigmatization.

Post-Competition Depression

Many athletes spend years preparing for a narrow window of opportunity--a college career, the Olympics or professional sports limited to certain ages. Intense preparation, daily practice and adjusting life to meet the sport's needs may dominate an athlete's life. After the particular event, an athlete may lose his sense of purpose and have a hard time reintegrating into a routine that does not focus solely on the sport. An athlete may experience depression if he is unprepared for the transition.


Education and providing mental health resources to athletes is imperative in preventing and treating depression. Familiarizing coaches, athletes and athletic staff with symptoms of depression will help identify athletes struggling with the mental health condition. Persons suffering with symptoms of depression should contact their doctor to discuss treatment. Cognitive behavioral treatment (CBT) is a form of therapy that helps athletes challenge and change negative thoughts and behaviors that contribute to their feelings of depression. Sports psychologists are aware of the emotional and physical challenges of athletes and specialize in treating athletes. Some athletes benefit from treatment that includes antidepressants, medications that increase serotonin levels in the body and alleviate symptoms of depression.