Romans 12: 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
Having made the transition from team sports to individual sports in my late teens, I was very intrigued by the title of this German study: Individual Athletes More Prone to Depression, Researchers Find. Professor Juergen Beckmann, of the Technical University of Munich, presented research which concluded that: “Individual athletes attribute failure more to themselves than team sports athletes. They take the blame more than team players. On a team there is a diffusion of responsibility, as social physiologists would say, compared with the performance of an individual athlete.”[i] In the study, the researchers compared 128 young German soccer players and hockey players with 71 young athletes who competed in a range of individual sports such as swimming, speed skating and badminton. They assessed all the athletes on a depression scale which measures key symptoms such as: guilt, sadness and suicidal feelings. “It found that individual athletes showed significantly more signs of such symptoms than athletes in team sports.” And removing any question of whether this is unique to young athletes, the study and findings were duplicated for senior elite athletes, including many from various German national teams.
This brought a few things to mind for me. Firstly, it saddens me to think that so many athletes are suffering from depression. Athletics and sports, which are intended to be primarily for recreation and enjoyment, have certainly morphed into something much different in recent decades. Sports has become big business with significant pressure even at a collegiate level, and young athletes trying to reach that level or older athletes trying to sustain elite levels, shoulder incredible pressure. Secondly, I found it intriguing that having teammates can significantly decrease depressive symptoms.
It shouldn’t surprise me though, because the concept of “team” was modelled out by God right from the very beginning. In Genesis God says: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26a). Referring to the Trinity (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit), we were created by a team. When Jesus himself began his ministry he very quickly assembled a team (Mathew 4:18-22, John 1:43-51). And when God formed the local church it was designed to be a team, to be a body made up of many unique parts (Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12:27).
As a team of Christians, we are called to deal with sin together by confessing our sins to one another (James 5:16), and even humbly challenging our brothers and sisters with their sin (Matthew 18:15-20). We are also called to encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11). We are called to: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15). In short, we are called to walk hand in hand through trials and victories. We are called to do life together.
If you are struggling with depression, I encourage you to not withdraw to yourself, but rather to reach out to the church which God formed, and for which Christ died (Ephesians 5:25). If you do not have a body of believers whom you can turn to, pray to God and earnestly ask him to bring you to a body of believers who love and earnestly seek him and the full truth of the scripture; a family who genuinely loves each other and loves the lost of the world, to whom we are sent to share the Gospel.