Background Information on the prevalence of mental health problems of elite athletes is inconclusive, most probably due to methodological limitations, such as low response rates, heterogeneous samples.
Aims To evaluate the prevalence and risk factors of depression and anxiety symptoms in high-level female football players.
Methods Female football players of 10 German first league (Bundesliga) and 7 lower league teams were asked to answer a questionnaire on players’ characteristics, the Center of Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) and the Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD-7) scale.
Results A total of 290 players (184 first and 106 lower league players) took part in the study. The CES-D score indicated mild to moderate symptoms of depression in 48 (16.6%) and severe symptoms in 41 (14.1%) players. The GAD-7 score indicated an at least moderate generalised anxiety disorder in 24 (8.3%) players. The prevalence of depression symptoms and generalised anxiety disorders was similar to the female general population of similar age. However, significantly more second league players reported symptoms of depression than first league players, and thus the prevalence of depression symptoms in second league players was higher than in the general population. Only a third of the 45 (15.7%) players who stated that they currently wanted or needed psychotherapeutic support received it.
Conclusion The prevalence of depression and generalised anxiety symptoms in elite football players is influenced by personal and sport-specific variables. It is important to raise awareness of athletes’ mental health problems in coaches and team physicians, to reduce stigma and to provide low-threshold treatment.
- women in sport
- elite performance
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