The aim of this review was to 1) describe methodological characteristics of the research that has assessed depressive symptoms in athletes, and 2) to map the variables that have been tested in relation to these symptoms. A review framework proposed by Arksey and O'Malley (2005) was utilized, and of 6983 records screened, 157 studies were included. Most studies were cross-sectional, with samples including current male and female athletes from multiple sports and levels. Non-athlete comparison groups frequently consisted of student samples. Twenty-eight different depression scales were utilized, of which CES-D, BDI, BDI-II, and the PHQ-9 were most common. The most commonly tested variables in relation to depressive symptoms were identified as proximal (micro- and meso-level) sport-specific (e.g. type of sport) (36.4%) and generic (e.g. sex) (31.5%) factors. Within-individual vulnerabilities (e.g. neurocognitive performance) accounted for 17.2%, while comorbid disorders accounted for 9.3%, and macro-level variables (e.g. ethnicity) for 5% of all observations. Longitudinal studies within specific sports are needed to understand the relative influence of sport-specific and generic factors on depressive symptoms in athletes. Few studies explored sociocultural or macro-level factors, and research concerning within-individual vulnerability is fragmented and needs to be further explored to inform individual-level support and prevention initiatives.
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- Mental health