J.D. DeFreese, a lecturer in the Exercise and Sport Science Department, researches the link between athletes’ mental health and their physical and social well-being. DeFreese said in an email the Gallup survey corresponds with already existing research.
“Physical activity, of which collegiate athletes participate in a lot, is a protective factor for positive lifespan mental and physical health outcomes, which could help to explain these findings,” DeFreese said.
The survey divided well-being into five categories — purpose, social, community, physical and financial — and measured whether a former athlete thrived in each category. Athletes succeeded at the highest percentage in purpose, social and community well-being, with 47 percent of former athletes thriving in three or more of the categories.
Bryan Noreen, who graduated from UNC in 2015 and ran on the cross country team, is now in a masters program for business analytics at the University of Tennessee.
He said he agreed with the results of the survey and said there are two factors that contributed to his success post-graduation — time management skills that come with being a student-athlete and the increased employment opportunities.
“Employers or schools looking at candidates see that you’re a D1 athlete and respond very positively to that — and I think that opens up a lot of opportunities,” he said.
Noreen said while being a student-athlete often means missed opportunities due to the time commitment, there are also upsides.
“I think it’s a very different experience, but the team environment and the work ethic and all that comes along with that I think sets you up well for the future,” he said.
The Gallup survey also showed former student athletes do well in social and community well-being — over half of former student athletes thrive in the previously stated categories.
The survey did not include mental health, and DeFreese said there has been some research implying former student-athletes might have lower levels of mental health well-being than their peers.
“Changes in athletic identity following retirement can lead to athletes struggling with outcomes of mental health (e.g., depression),” DeFreese said.
He has not seen studies that explain a causal relationship between student athleticism and mental health issues, but he said based on current research, athleticism is a positive factor for students.
“I would say that receiving a college education debt-free, being in excellent physical shape — and having the knowledge to continue this across the lifespan — and being a member of a social network that can help with occupational and other goals puts collegiate athletes in a great position to achieve post-graduation,” DeFreese said.