Elite athletes are not protected from Common Mental Disorders

Vincent Gouttebarge, one of our ACHSS colleagues, is an expert on Common Mental Disorders (CMD) in current and former high level athletes. This recent study, which he led, aimed to determine the prevalence and comorbidity of symptoms of common mental disorders among current and former Dutch elite athletes, and to explore the inference between potential risk indicators and the outcomes measures under investigation.

Cross-sectional analyses were conducted on baseline questionnaires from an ongoing prospective cohort study among 203 current and 282 former elite Dutch athletes (response rate: 28% among current athletes and 95% among former athletes). Based on validated scales, an electronic questionnaire was set up and distributed, asking about distress, anxiety/depression, sleep disturbance, eating disorders, adverse alcohol use. The 4-week prevalences of CMD ranged from 6% for adverse alcohol use to 45% for anxiety/depression among current elite athletes, and from 18% for distress to 29% for anxiety/depression among former elite athletes.

A higher number of past severe injuries, higher number of past surgeries, higher number of recent life events, higher level of career dissatisfaction and lower level of social support were related to the occurrence of symptoms of common mental disorders among both current and former elite athletes.

On average, the 4-week prevalence of common mental disorders as shown in this study among current and former Dutch elite athletes were similar to the ones found among athletes from other sports disciplines and does compare with the lifetime prevalence estimates in the general population of the Netherlands.

Raising the self-awareness of all stakeholders in Dutch elite sports about common mental disorders should be prioritised, as well as the evidence-based development and application of adequate preventive and supportive measures aiming to protect athlete’s health and empower their quality of life.

Gouttebarge V, Jonkers R, Moen M, et al. The prevalence and risk indicators of symptoms of common mental disorders among current and former Dutch elite athletes. J Sports Sci 2017;35:2148–56. doi:10.1080/02640414.2016.1258485

The full paper can be accessed here (paid access)