Analyzing group differences of gender and sport participation on Canadian university students' mental health outcomes


More than 60% of college students met the criteria for one or more mental health problems (Lipson et al., 2022), and female post-secondary students have been found to have higher levels of mental health disorders, especially depression and anxiety, than males (Auerbach et al., 2018; Wörfel et al., 2016). Research suggests that university student-athletes' prevalence of mental health issues is similar to (Wolanin et al., 2016), if not higher than (Sullivan et al., 2019) than their non-athlete peers. This study analyzed the data from the Canadian Campus Wellbeing Survey (CCWS) from 2020 – 2021, which is a self-administered questionnaire focusing on assessing post-secondary student's health and wellbeing. The purpose was to analyze group differences of gender and sport participation level (varsity, intramural, non-participant) on the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10) and Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale (WEMWBS). A two-way MANOVA revealed no significant interactions but significant main effects for sport participation and gender on both outcomes. Specifically, students with either sport participation scored significantly better on both mental wellbeing scales than students who did not participate in sport, and female students reported worse mental health outcomes than males. The results for gender are consistent with previous literature, and the sport differences add to the emerging evidence on the mental health of intercollegiate student athletes relative to their non-student peers. We feel that the incorporation of large-scale databases such as the CCWS holds tremendous potential for evidence-based decisions and implications with respect to the mental health of university varsity athletes in Canada.