Mental health symptoms in German elite athletes : a network analysis

Introduction: Elite athletes are exposed to a variety of sport-specific stressors that may put them at particular risk for mental health symptoms and disorders. The aim of the present study was to assess data on mental health of elite athletes and investigate associations and interconnections among different variables using network analysis.

Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted from December 2021 to December 2022. The sample consisted of 275 German elite athletes (167 females) aged ≥18 years. Next to sociodemographic, medical and sport-related data, psychometric data such as psychological distress, symptoms of generalized anxiety, depression, and somatic symptom disorder have been gathered through questionnaires and analyzed by means of network analysis.

Results: Over 95.0% of the athletes showed elevated distress and 28.6% reported symptoms of depression. Results of the network analysis show, among other findings, that symptoms of somatic symptom disorder were associated with severe injuries and substance use. Moreover, elite athletes who reported a better financial situation reported fewer symptoms of depression, generalized anxiety, and somatic symptom disorder. They also reported a lower incidence of mild to moderate injuries and severe injuries, fewer years spent in elite sports, less substance use, and fewer training sessions per week. Conversely, these athletes reported a higher level of distress. Furthermore, sex, financial situation and number of training units per week emerged as significant predictors for mental health symptoms.

Discussion: Elite athletes showed increased numbers regarding mental health symptoms. Providing appropriate mental health interventions for elite athletes and further analysis of factors that influence the mental health of elite athletes and their interplay seem to be of central importance for the general well-being of elite athletes.


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© 2023 Geiger, Jahre, Aufderlandwehr, Krakowczyk, Esser, Mühlbauer, Skoda, Teufel and Bäuerle

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