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UW study finds depression increasing among student-athletes without high school sports

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Madison (WQOW) - A collaboration between the WIAA and UW-Madison shows alarming statistics related to the mental health of student-athletes who are not able to participate in organized sports during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The WIAA presented the findings to school districts on Tuesday.

The report, put together by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health shows 68% of student-athletes polled said they were experiencing at least mild depression symptoms. That is up from 31% of athletes in historical data collected by UW.

Anxiety among those athletes is very similar with 65% reporting symptoms. Of those reporting some symptoms, 40% said the symptoms are mild while 25% said symptoms were moderate or severe.

Medical experts have long said physical activity can help decrease feelings of anxiety and depression. This study from the UW School of Medicine shows a 50% decrease in physical activity among student-athletes during the pandemic.

"COVID-19 related school closures in Wisconsin are associated with worsening mental health, physical activity and health-related quality of life," reported Dr. Timothy McGuine. "The negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on anxiety or depression are likely going to be perpetuated by continued lower rates of exercise and organized sports opportunities."

So, how do the mental health consequences weigh against potential exposure to COVID-19 should sports resume?

Well, the short answer is there is no answer.

WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson said it will ultimately be up to each individual district to weigh the pros and cons of returning to play.

Anderson said the WIAA will allow districts to make their own decisions about fall sports, the WIAA will not step in and cancel them altogether.

During the call, WIAA leadership said it is likely they will put together a list of guidelines for fall sports similar to what they did for summer activities.

Clint Berge

Clint Berge is the Social Media & Digital Content Manager for Eau Claire’s Own WQOW News 18.
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