Ohio State’s mental health professionals have been focusing on studies that show how mental health can be improved through sports participation.
According to an Office of Student Life press release, a 2021 report gathered by the American College of Health Association stated 75 percent of those surveyed experienced moderate to serious psychological distress. Mental health service demands at universities have risen over the last several years, sparking an analysis of past studies, according to the release.
“There are many different theories as to why mental health has been declining over the years, such as increased use of technology, worsening of our eating habits, as seen by increased rates of obesity in the general population, and other people think it’s due to a decrease in physical activity, ”Dr. Ryan Patel, a psychiatrist at the Counseling and Consultation Service, said.
Participating in sports could help prevent drug use and mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, and improve social health, Patel said.
“If you are playing a sport, whether that’s an individual or a team sport, then one of the things that happens is we feel less stressed,” Patel said. “Because we are feeling less stressed, students might be less likely to engage in other ways of managing the stress that might be harmful.”
Ohio State men’s lacrosse freshman midfielder Aidan Kenley said being able to participate in his sport has allowed him to cope with stress in a healthy way.
“For as long as I’ve dealt with anxiety in my life, I can say that working out and playing sports is my favorite way to mentally relax,” Kenley said. “I’d say I feel flushed out of any negative emotions after a practice, lift, etc. I take pride in trying to cope with anxiety in positive ways like being active. ”
Patel received factors such as prioritizing nutrition and getting ample rest, are positive steps for both physical and mental well-being.
The pressure to perform well in Division I sports can take a toll on student athletes and cause a larger strain on mental health compared to those involved in recreational sports, Patel said.
“An individual student participating in a rec sport activity is able to take a break when they want to,” Patel said. “There’s an offseason where they don’t have to do anything at all, but for many Division I sports, the sporting season is very structured in terms of practice, workouts and games as well. Their offseason is also very structured. ”
Patel said while some student-athletes can thrive under pressure, there are some who struggle with it.
Kenley said he has experienced many positive impacts through sports. He got playing lacrosse has always been a coping mechanism for him, even though it can be draining.
“I enjoy having a very structured schedule to follow with little downtime to stay focused on what’s most important to me,” Kenley said. “I find when I have too much time, I often get lazy or end up overthinking little things that mentally distract me from what I should be doing.”
On campus, there are many ways to get involved in sports, such as taking a class through the Sport Fitness and Health Programsigning up for an intramural team or simply just playing a sport on a regular basis with friends.
Alongside physical education opportunities, there are many resources available for students struggling with mental health on Ohio State’s campus. Some resources include:
Other mental health resources at Ohio State can be found on the Counseling and Consultation Service website.