Anxiety and depression in athletes assessed using the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) - a systematic scoping review
Introduction: Poor mental health of athletes is major concern in sport. Typically, incidence/prevalence of mental health symptoms in athletes is studied using symptom-specific questionnaires. For symptoms of depression/anxiety, one such self-reporting questionnaire is the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12).
Objective: The aim of this review was to synthesise and compare studies using the GHQ-12 in athletes to inform future research by identifying trends and gaps in the literature.
Methods: A systematic search of five electronic databases (Google Scholar, PubMed, PsychINFO, Scopus and Web of Science) was conducted on all published studies up to 1 January 2019. 1) participants were able-bodied athletes; 2) studies measured anxiety/depression using the GHQ-12; 3) studies were full original articles from peer-reviewed journals; 4) studies were published in English.
Results: 32 studies were included in the review. Prevalence and incidence of symptoms of anxiety/depression ranged from 21-48% and 17-57% respectively. The majority of studies screening anxiety/depression using the GHQ-12 were cross-sectional. Almost 70% of studies used the traditional scoring method. The majority of study populations sampled all-male cohorts comprising football (soccer) players.
Conclusion: The traditional scoring of 0-0-1-1 should be used with the cut-off set at ≥3. Also, the mean GHQ-12 score should be reported. Potential risk factors for symptoms of anxiety/depression (i.e. recent adverse life events, injury and illness, social support, pressure to perform and career transitioning) and a lack of prospective studies were identified. Future research should also broaden the spectrum of athlete populations used and try to improve response rates.
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