What is it about?

Do athletes' intentions to seek help from a psychologist depend on the symptoms they are currently experiencing? Does it matter whether athletes are currently symptom free, or whether they are dealing with symptoms of anxiety and/or depression? This study sought to explore these questions with a focus on differences between male and female athletes, and non-athletes.

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Why is it important?

There may still be a stigma for seeking psychological help in sport, where masking vulnerability, exhibiting toughness, and ignoring or downplaying injury may be highly valued. In his study we wanted to explore athletes' and non-athletes' intentions to seek help from a psychologist in times when they may be experiencing clinically relevant anxiety and/or depression symptoms. At a first glans, we did not find any differences in help-seeking intentions between athletes and non-athletes. Differences did however emerge among female participants when we took into account levels of current anxiety and depression symptoms. That is, among female participants with clinical symptoms of depression, female athletes reported lower intentions to seek help than female non-athletes. We found that female participants were in general more likely to report higher intentions to seek help than male participants, supporting the large body of literature on gender differences in help-seeking. When we explored the non-athlete and athlete samples separately, female non-athletes had higher intentions to seek help than male non-athletes, independent from the type of symptoms they were currently experiencing. In the athlete sample, when levels of anxiety and depression were below the cut-off for clinically relevant symptoms, female athletes had significantly higher intentions to seek help than male athletes. However, and quite surprisingly, when depression symptoms were above the clinical cut-off, female athletes reported significantly lower intentions to seek help than male athletes. This help-seeking pattern was however not found in athletes with elevated anxiety or co-morbid anxiety and depression symptoms.


Initially, I was curious whether previous findings about athletes' lesser intentions to seek help than non-athletes' could perhaps be a consequence of athletes' overall lower levels of anxiety and depression, hence leading to a lesser need and intention to seek help. With this in mind, I wanted to test athletes' help seeking intentions while taking into account current levels of depression/anxiety symptoms. We know that depression influences individuals' overall engagement in life, including active problem solving and actions to deal with problems at hand. But why did depression symptoms have a different effect on female athletes' intentions than male athletes'? As this help-seeking pattern was specific to the athlete sample, there may be specific nuances to gender differences in help-seeking depending on the context in which individuals operate. The sport context can be seen as highly masculine where masking vulnerability, exhibiting toughness, and ignoring or downplaying injury may be highly valued. Perhaps in this context, some female athletes over-identified with masculine norms that are at odds with the intention to seek help for symptoms of depression? Although this is highly speculative and further studies are needed to confirm our findings; we do believe that it may be beneficial in the future to explore help-seeking with the understanding that different types of psychological problems may have a different influence on athletes' intentions to seek help.

Richard Tahtinen
Liverpool John Moores University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The Influence of Anxiety and Depression Symptoms on Help-Seeking Intentions in Individual Sport Athletes and Non-Athletes: The Role of Gender and Athlete Status, Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, March 2019, Human Kinetics, DOI: 10.1123/jcsp.2017-0028.
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