Comparing Mental Health of Athletes and Non-Athletes as they Emerge from a COVID-19 Pandemic Lockdown

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Abstract

Athletes going through transition periods such as injury or retirement have previously reported feelings of depression and
anxiety, especially when feeling unsupported. Cessation of competitive sport during the pandemic has forced athletes through a
non-normative transition and has reduced many opportunities to satisfy their basic psychological needs increasing the risk of poor
wellbeing and loneliness. Whilst athletes are often praised for their resilience – a trait that serves to support them during tough
times – the inability to play sport can be particularly challenging for those with strong athletic identities. An online cross-sectional
survey (n=744) was conducted to capture adult athlete and non-athlete mental health factors (specifically wellbeing, depression,
anxiety, loneliness) during emergence from a COVID-19 lockdown. Results showed that resilience was positively correlated with
mental health but was no higher in athletes than non-athletes. Furthermore, athletes reported greater anxiety than non-athletes,
a difference mediated by negative affectivity – a subfactor of athletic identity. We present evidence that after a temporary
transition away from sport, athletes’ resilience is comparable to non-athletes leaving them just as likely to suffer poor mental
health. Moreover, athletes with strong athletic identities are likely to experience anxiety symptoms above and beyond those
reported by non-athletes. Findings have implications for the development of self-management guidance for athletes as the COVID-19
pandemic and restrictions on sport participation continue.
Original languageEnglish
Journal Frontiers in Sports and Active Living
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 14 Apr 2021

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