Suicide in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Athletes: A 9-Year Analysis of the NCAA Resolutions Database

Sports Health. 2015 Sep-Oct;7(5):452-7. doi: 10.1177/1941738115587675. Epub 2015 May 20.


Background: The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has recently highlighted mental health concerns in student athletes, though the incidence of suicide among NCAA athletes is unclear. The purpose of this study was to determine the rate of suicide among NCAA athletes.

Hypothesis: The incidence of suicide in NCAA athletes differs by sex, race, sport, and division.

Study design: Retrospective cohort study.

Level of evidence: Level 3.

Methods: NCAA Memorial Resolutions list and published NCAA demographic data were used to identify student-athlete deaths and total participant seasons from 2003-2004 through 2011-2012. Deaths were analyzed by age, sex, race, division, and sport.

Results: Over the 9-year study period, 35 cases of suicide were identified from a review of 477 student-athlete deaths during 3,773,309 individual participant seasons. The overall suicide rate was 0.93/100,000 per year. Suicide represented 7.3% (35/477) of all-cause mortality among NCAA student athletes. The annual incidence of suicide in male athletes was 1.35/100,000 and in female athletes was 0.37/100,000 (relative risk [RR], 3.7; P < 0.01). The incidence in African American athletes was 1.22/100,000 and in white athletes was 0.87/100,000 (RR, 1.4; P = 0.45). The highest rate of suicide occurred in men's football (2.25/100,000), and football athletes had a relative risk of 2.2 (P = 0.03) of committing suicide compared with other male, nonfootball athletes.

Conclusion: The suicide rate in NCAA athletes appears to be lower than that of the general and collegiate population of similar age. NCAA male athletes have a significantly higher rate of suicide compared with female athletes, and football athletes appear to be at greatest risk.

Clinical relevance: Suicide represents a preventable cause of death, and development of effective prevention programs is recommended.

Keywords: NCAA; student athlete; sudden death; suicide.

MeSH terms

  • Black People / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sex Distribution
  • Sports / statistics & numerical data*
  • Suicide / ethnology
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • White People / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult