News & Events

Backus physicians talk about link between athletics and depression

May 3, 2012

NORWICH – The death of NFL great, Junior Seau, has highlighted a little known link between athletics and depression.

During his weekly talk show on Saturday, May 5 at 11 a.m. on WTIC-1080 AM, Anthony Alessi, MD, Medical Director of the Backus Stroke Center, neurologist on the Medical Staff at Backus and sports medicine consultant in the area of concussions and his guest speaker, James O’Dea, PhD, MBA, Backus Vice President of Clinical Service Line Development, will discuss the signs and symptoms of depression and how they relate to athletics.

Dr. Alessi said there are many terms used to describe professional athletes including famous, rich, leader and superstar.  However, one word not commonly applied in this context is “depressed.”

Depression is an illness that affects approximately 15 million American adults each year.  Like many other illnesses, depression has no boundaries in regard to gender, profession or socioeconomic status and is often overlooked in children and young adults.  It can also expedite the affects of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

There is no single factor that causes depression. Stress, sleep deprivation, genetics and hormonal fluctuations are among the influences that cause an alteration in brain chemistry ultimately resulting in depression.

As with any other group, athletes are not immune to depression and its effects. Dr. O’Dea said, “After coming off the mountain of being involved in professional sports, it is not uncommon for retired athletes, especially, to lose self-esteem.  This can lead to a downward spiral including drug and alcohol use and depression.”

Although depression is common, it is insufficiently identified Dr. O’Dea said.  With a variety of treatments options available, many people suffer the tragic effects of depression needlessly.

In athletes, head injury can also play a big role in precipitating a bout of depression.  Athletes typically enjoy the benefits of being popular among peers, access to higher education and being in excellent general health.  Unfortunately, many of these advantages can be fleeting.

Depression is a treatable illness but identifying and admitting to it early are crucial for a full recovery.

To read Dr. Alessi’s Healthy Sports blog on athletics and depression, visit  To hear his podcast, visit and click on “Podcasts.”