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  • Posted April 5, 2024

Suicide Rates Have Doubled in 20 Years Among U.S. College Athletes

Suicides among U.S. college athletes have doubled over the past two years, according to data from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Suicide is now the second most common cause of death for college athletes after accidents, results show.

“Athletes are generally thought of as one of the healthiest populations in our society, yet the pressures of school, internal and external performance expectations, time demands, injury, athletic identity and physical fatigue can lead to depression, mental health problems and suicide,” wrote the research team led by Bridget Whelan, a research coordinator with the University of Washington in Seattle.

For the study, Whelan and colleagues analyzed suicides among NCAA athletes from June 2002 to June 2022.

During the two decades, 1,102 athletes died. Of those, 128 took their own lives, including 98 men and 30 women.

The suicide rate among college athletes doubled comparing the first decade and the second, rising from 7.6% to 15.3%. At the same time, the overall U.S. suicide rate rose just 36%.

Suicides among males increased each year throughout the study period, while suicides among females increased from 2010 onwards.

Male suicides increased from 31 during the first 10 years to 67 in the second decade, results show. Female suicides increased from 9 to 21 between the two decades.

There were nine deaths every two years in male athletes and three deaths every two years in female athletes.

The highest number of suicides was among male cross-country athletes and among the more competitive division I and II athletes, compared with division III athletes, results show.

In fact, there were two deaths every five years in cross-country athletes, researchers found.

Suicides also were more common during the school year, with an average of 12 per month compared with less than seven per month in the summer, results show.

The findings were published April 4 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The data didn't include any information that might explain why athletes might commit suicide, the researchers noted.

“Athletes may … experience harassment and abuse within their sport, including psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, hazing and cyberbullying from the public and members of their team including peer athletes, coaches and members of the entourage,” the researchers speculated.

The researchers pointed out that the NCAA has renewed efforts in recent years to address mental health among college athletes.

“Despite recent increased focus on mental health in athletes, death by suicide is increasing,” they noted.

More information

The NCAA has more on college athlete mental health.

SOURCE: British Journal of Sports Medicine, news release, April 4, 2024

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