Vol. 49 No. 1 (2019)

Levels of Psychological Distress of Canadian University Student-Athletes

Philip Sullivan
Department of Kinesiology Brock University
Mishka Blacker
Brock University
John Cairney
University of Toronto

Published 2019-04-21

How to Cite

Sullivan, P., Blacker, M., Murphy, J., & Cairney, J. (2019). Levels of Psychological Distress of Canadian University Student-Athletes. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 49(1), 47–59. https://doi.org/10.47678/cjhe.v49i1.188192


The mental health of Canadian university students is fairly well researched, but there is relatively little evidence concerning the mental health of Canadian university student-athletes. Recent research in the United States and Canada has suggested that mental health (e.g., anxiety and depression) differs between student-athletes and student non-athletes. However, the results are ambivalent as to whether student-athletes experience more or less psychological distress than their non-athlete peers. To address this gap, the purpose of the current study was to measure the levels of psychological distress in a national sample of 284 university student-athletes. Each athlete completed the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K6; Kessler et al., 2002) via a secure online platform. The average score on the K6 for student-athletes was 8.2 out of 24; 19.8% of the sample surpassed the cut-off for assessing the prevalence of severe mental illness. A regression analysis found that gender, starting status, and scholarship status significantly predicted levels of psychological distress. Females, non-starters, and student-athletes without a scholarship were associated with increases in K6 scores.


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