Psychological Symptoms and Chronic Mood in Representative Samples of Elite Student-Athletes, Deselected Student-Athletes and Comparison Students

Abstract

Stress-levels experienced by school-aged elite athletes are pronounced, but data on their mental health status are widely lacking. In our study, we examined self-reported psychological symptoms and chronic mood. Data from a representative sample of 866 elite student-athletes (aged 12–15 years), enrolled in high-performance sport programming in German Elite Schools of Sport, were compared with data from 80 student-athletes from the same schools who have just been deselected from elite sport promotion, and from 432 age- and sex-matched non-sport students from regular schools (without such programming). Anxiety symptoms were least prevalent in female elite student-athletes. In male elite student-athletes, only symptoms of posttraumatic stress were less prevalent than in the other groups. Somatoform symptoms were generally more frequent in athletes, a trend that was significantly pronounced in deselected athletes. Deselected athletes showed an increased risk for psychological symptoms compared with both other groups. Regarding chronic mood, again deselected athletes showed less positive scores. While there was a trend toward high-performance sport being associated with better psychological health at least in girls, preventative programs should take into account that deselection from elite sport programming may be associated with specific risks for mental disorders.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Stephen Crawcour, PhD, TU Dresden, who helped editing this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ralf Brand.

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Brand, R., Wolff, W. & Hoyer, J. Psychological Symptoms and Chronic Mood in Representative Samples of Elite Student-Athletes, Deselected Student-Athletes and Comparison Students. School Mental Health 5, 166–174 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12310-012-9095-8

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Keywords

  • School
  • Mental health
  • Mental disorders
  • Competitive sport
  • Forced drop-out