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UW Study: Sports shutdown negatively impacts student-athletes’ mental health

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MADISON (WKOW)- Many high school student-athletes were not able to participate in sports this year because of the pandemic.

On Wednesday night, MMSD student-athletes came together on a zoom session to deliver a heartfelt message about how not playing sports has impacted them.

"It's worse than not being happy," Madison Memorial Senior Jaydon Bott said. "Depression in teens has gone up 300 percent. This situation has taken a dramatic toll on all us here."

UW-Health researchers conducted studies focused on how the cancellation or resumption of fall sports affected student-athletes' mental health.

"What we found is that of high school athletes, those who were able to participate in their fall sports had better mental health, so less depression," Dr. Claudia Reardon said. "We know they were more physically active, that's no surprise, overall, a better quality of life."

In a national study surveying 13,000 high school athletes, they were able to discover who was disproportionately at risk for mental health challenges if not able to participate in high school sports.

"Female athletes are at significantly greater risk of suffering depression and anxiety," Dr. Reardon explained. "Athletes at higher grades, so grade 12 athletes much more likely to be depressed or anxious when not able to participate in sport than underclass. Athletes in team sports interestingly disproportionately negatively affected."

The reason many schools did not take part in sports is because they believed there was a greater risk for contracting COVID-19. Dr. Andrew Watson led a study that surveyed more than 150,000 high school athletes across the country at nearly 1,000 high schools, pooling data from the fall and early winter months to answer this question.

"What we found is that reported to us by the high school athletic directors, only about four percent, so a relatively small number of cases they were having in their athletes were attributed to transmission during sports," Dr. Watson said.

Dr. Watson also found that playing indoors added a level of risk.

"But, what was most interesting is that those groups that had the highest level of risk in the first place also seemed to have the most benefit from using masks to the extent that those indoor groups that had a higher risk, the ones that reported using face masks, really had a very similar risk to all the outdoor activities," Dr. Watson explained.

Dr. Watson added that contact sports had a slightly increased risk compared to non-contact but not quite as dramatic as the location.

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Karley Marotta

Weekend Sports Anchor

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