March 29, 2023

Research Uncovers Higher Rates of Depressive Symptoms among Male Japanese Professional Soccer Players

The study found that the numbers of elite athletes reporting depressive symptoms is “substantial” and warrants clinical attention, as well as stigma reduction.

A new study co-authored by Professor Michael Fetters, MD, MPH, MA, of the Department of Family Medicine, found “substantial” levels of depression among male professional soccer players in Japan.

Tomoko Ito, MD, MSc, a mentee and past participant in the department’s SMARTER FM exchange program, a project promoting family medicine research in collaboration with the Shizuoka Family Medicine Training Program and Hamamatsu Medical University Department of Family and Community Medicine in Shizuoka, Japan, served as the lead author.

Professor Michael Fetters, M.D., MPH, MA

Fetters and Ito, in addition to researchers from the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health at the University of London, conducted a cross-sectional online survey during the Japanese Professional Football preseason between February and April 2020. In addition to assessing the frequency of depressive symptoms among male professional soccer players in Japan, the research team also explored the association of these symptoms with current injuries, history of severe injuries, general anxiety and adverse life events.

Sixty-four professional athletes from four teams completed three screening tools as outcome measures including the Patient Health Questionnaire, Generalized Anxiety-Disorder-7, and select items from the Social Athletic Readjustment Rating Scale.

Their findings, which the authors describe as concerning, appear in the Asian Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology.

Among the 64 athletes participating in the study, 9.4% of participants reported depressive symptoms, with two players (3.1%) experiencing additional generalized anxiety. While this is lower than previously reported prevalence estimates among players in other countries, it is still greater than the general population of Japan in similar age groups (survey participants were a median age of 26 years).

The researchers found no significant association between depressive symptoms and age, current injuries, or past severe injury history.

Dr. Tomoko Ito
Tomoko Ito, MD, MSc

These findings indicate a “substantial” prevalence of depression, according to the paper’s authors. Considering these findings and the “substantial” burden of depression they indicate, the researchers urge clinicians to more proactively assess the mental health of competitive athletes and work to lessen the stigma associated with mental health, which may be preventing athletes from seeking treatment and support.

Lead author Ito, a project researcher in the Department of Family Medicine at Hamamatsu University School of Medicine, benefitted from mentorships among with the University of Michigan’s Department of Family Medicine’s Sports Medicine faculty and Japanese Family Health Program faculty. She also serves as team physician for the Toyoda Gosei Scorpions men’s basketball team.

Article citation: Ito, T., Fetters, M. D., Kipps, C., &; Kumar, B. (2023). Depressive symptoms among male professional soccer players in Japan. Asian Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology.