Associations between organized sport and mental health indices among post-secondary students experiencing disabilities: Social provisions and physical activity guideline adherence matters


Organized sport is a promising student life activity for promoting campus community engagement, social provisions including social supports/companions, and mental health among students experiencing disabilities (i.e., long-term impairments substantially affecting everyday functioning and societal participation). Drawing on whole-campus perspectives for supporting student mental health, the aim of this study was to test the pathways between sport engagement, social factors (campus climate, social provisions), health behaviour (physical activity [PA] guideline adherence), and mental health indices (psychological distress, well-being, loneliness) among students experiencing disabilities. Path analysis was conducted to examine the direct effects of organized sport on health behaviour, social factors, and mental health. The indirect effects of organized sport on mental health through social factors and health behaviour were also examined. Data from the Spring 2023 national Canadian Campus Well-Being Survey were used (N = 4,608; impairment type: 38% comorbid, 32% mental health, 13% neurological; Mage = 26 (9.07) years; 70% women). Over half (63%) adhered to PA guidelines and only 18% engaged in organized sport. Sport engagement was directly associated with PA guideline adherence, social provisions, well-being, and loneliness (R2 = 0.01–0.26). There were significant indirect effects of organized sport on mental health indices through social provisions (% relative contribution = 26-38%) and PA guideline adherence (% relative contribution = 11-12%). The results have implications for the development of strategies aimed at improving sport participation among students experiencing disabilities, with the overall goal of promoting social provisions, health enhancing engagement in PA, and mental health across Canadian post-secondary campuses.