Well-being, social support, and mental health among student-athletes during the transition to university


Entry to university coincides with a major stage in biopsychosocial development that may be challenging for young adults' mental health. Student-athletes may face additional challenges related to balancing their athletics and academics. The purpose of this study was to compare the well-being, perceived social support, and mental health of student athletes versus non-athlete students over the first year at university. This study used data from the Queen's U-Flourish biannual survey. Data were collected within the first month of university and before end-of-year exams. We analyzed self-report measures of life satisfaction, anxious and depressive symptoms, sleep, social support, and stress from 175 student-athletes and 2780 non-athlete students in two successive cohorts (2018-2019 & 2019-2020) who completed baseline and follow-up surveys. Associations between student-athlete status and mental health outcomes were examined using multivariable log-binomial regression. Student-athletes typically reported greater social support compared to non-athlete students at baseline (RR: 1.20; 95% CI: 1.01-1.43). At follow-up, student-athletes were less likely than non-athlete students to screen positive for symptoms of depression (RR: 0.86; 95% CI: 0.64-1.16), anxiety (RR: 0.91; 95% CI: 0.69-1.20), and insomnia (RR: 0.66; 95% CI: 0.45-0.97). Average life satisfaction was higher among student-athletes at follow-up (p=.008), and perceived stress was significantly lower in student-athletes at baseline (p<.001) and follow-up (p=.02). Mediation analyses indicated that higher social support among student-athletes did not explain their reduced risk of developing mental health problems over the academic year. Future research should investigate other potential protective factors to explain mental health differences between student-athletes and non-athlete students.

Acknowledgments: The U-Flourish survey received funding from the Canadian Institute of Health Research and the Mach-Gaensslen Foundation of Canada