Mental health among elite athletes in Norway during a selected period of the COVID-19 pandemic

BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2021 Feb 23;7(1):e001025. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2020-001025. eCollection 2021.


Objective: To investigate the prevalence of mental health problems and satisfaction with life among different groups of elite athletes during a selected period of the COVID-19 pandemic and examine how COVID-19 related consequences were associated with these variables.

Design: Cross-sectional data collection during a selected period of the COVID-19 pandemic in Norway.

Participants: 378 elite athletes, mean age 26.86 (range 18-59), 159 females and 219 males, divided into Olympic-level and Paralympic-level athletes (n=194) and elite and semielite athletes (n=184).

Main outcome measures: Hopkins Symptoms Check List - 10; symptoms of anxiety and depression; Bergen Insomnia Scale; Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire Short; Canadian Problem Gambling Index and Satisfaction with Life Scale. In addition, we included specific COVID-19 questions (eg, financial concern, keeping daily routines, perceived coping and motivation).

Results: Symptoms of insomnia (38.3%) and depression (22.3%) were most prevalent within the sample. Symptoms of eating disorders more prevalent among female athletes (8.8% vs 1.4%) while symptoms of gambling problems were higher among male athletes (8.6% vs 1.3%). Olympic and Paralympic athletes reported lower levels of anxiety and depression symptoms than elite and semielite athletes. Financial concerns were associated with an increased risk of mental health problems, while daily routines and perception of coping were associated with less mental health problems and higher satisfaction with life.

Conclusion: Symptoms of insomnia and depression were the two most common mental health problems reported during this selected phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Elite and semielite athletes reported financial concerns as a risk factor for mental health problems at a larger degree than Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

Keywords: COVID-19; anxiety; depression; elite performance; mental.