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August 4, 2020

7/7/2020 9:36:00 AM
Depression among students, athletes receives WIAA attention

When COVID-19 forced cancellation of schools and athletics no one knew how long it would take to return to some type of normalcy.
They still don't.
But what is known is that the school closings and athletic cancellations have caused had an adverse affect on students and athletes. Timothy A. McGuine, PhD, discussed the affects in depth on a WIAA zoom meeting Tuesday attended by nearly 300 people from the media, school officials and WIAA staff.
Athletes in Wisconsin were surveyed earlier this spring for their views on how cancellations have impacted the mental and physical health of adolescent athletes. McGuine said 3,243 athletes participated in the study from 71 or wisconsin's 72 counties. The data was collected in May via an online survey. Questions included comments on mental health, physical activity and health related quality of life.
Respondents reported anxiety symptoms ranging from minimal to severe. There were 68% of the respondents who reported symptoms of depressing, the study shows. The study notes there has also been a decrease in physical activity, including a 50% decrease in May. According to the report this shows a decline in physical, psychosocial and overall health.
"COVID-19 related school closures in Wisconsin are associated with worsening mental health, physical activity and health related quality of life," McGuine said in the study. "We have no existing data showing the impact of COVID-19 on the health and well being of Wisconsin adolescent athletes but the negative psychosocial effects may result in additional health care utilization and spending in future years."
It is estimated that 66.000 young athletes in the state are at risk for depression. Mental health disorders can impact whether these students use drugs and alcohol, stay in school or engage with peers or graduate from high school. The fear is that disorders can become chronic and influence whether students go on to further education or form meaningful lifelong relationships.
It was also noted that schools play an important role in providing access to mental health services for disadvantaged students.
"Medical providers and policy makers must recognize the mental health strain the current pandemic is placing on adolescent athletes," the report concludes.
Conclusions reached by report are:
-COVID-19 related school and sport closures in Wisconsin appear to be associated with significant negative impacts on health and well-being of Wisconsin adolescents.
-Public health experts and school administrators need to consider the benefits and risks of prolonged closures when considering steps to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin.
During a question and answer session following discussion on the report many centered around how the return to school and fall sports will be handled.
Dr. Kevin Walters who practices medicine in the Milwaukee area said what must be considered are benefits vs risk.
"Studies show that school aged children are less likely to get COVID-19 and also less likely to pass it on," Dr. Walters said.
When it come to return to school and sports he feels there might be some areas of compromise that will work. He also added that being able to predict what will be happening in August at this point is impossible.
"We need to do what we can to minimize risk but we also have to recognize there is risk to not being in school and not playing sports," the Dr. added. "With life we cannot limit risk."
If practice and competition take place in the fall it may have a different look, participants agreed. Ideas included practicing in pods, coaches wearing masks at practice and social distancing being observed.
"Each community will have to have their own answers," the Dr. said.
He added that a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics say social distancing in school can be reduced from six to three feet with use of a mask.
Dave Anderson, WIAA Executive Director said schools have many responsibilities to a community but the first job is taking care of the kids. He said the decision on how to do this is up to the schools with the WIAA serving as a support organization.
"We will provide the best information and resources that we can." Anderson said.
He went on to say the reason the spring sports seasons were cancelled was to allow health care providers to catch up.
"But now we are recognizing the adverse impact of no athletics for kids," he said. "If schools open and decide to sponsor sports we will do whatever we can to provide a tournament series. Seeing the negative impact without sports is what is driving our focus right now."
Wade Lebecki, an associate director of the WIAA added that what a tournament series will look like is unknown.
"We are not looking that far out," he said.
He also added that if a contact period goes on it will no doubt show what can and can't be done.
When it came to discussing the various conferences throughout the state WIAA officials said it is necessary for them to see common ground when making decisions on what the seasons will look like.
"The decisions will be up to the districts," Anderson said. "We will be putting out information over the next months, make recommendations and give advice."
"There are many questions which cannot be avoided."

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