Past research has linked physical activity and sports participation with improved mental and social well-being, including reduced risk of depression and suicidality. In this study we examined relationships among several dimensions of athletic involvement (team sport participation, individual sport participation, athlete identity, and jock identity), gender, and depression and suicidal behavior in a sample of 791 undergraduate students. Both participation in a team sport and athlete identity were associated with lower depression scores. Athlete identity was also associated with lower odds of a past-year suicide attempt, whereas jock identity was associated with elevated odds of a suicide attempt. The findings are discussed in light of the relationship between mental well-being and a larger constellation of health-risk behaviors linked to a “toxic jock” identity.
The authors are with the University at Buffalo, Research Institute on Addictions, 1021 Main Street, Buffalo, NY, 14203.