Mental health problems are common: they affect about one in four people. Among professional athletes, the rate can be even higher with some symptoms.
What are Mental health problems?
Mental health problems describe a mental and emotional state that affects a person’s thinking, feeling, behaviour or mood. They cover a broad range of problems such as feelings of distress, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance or substance abuse.
Someone has mental health problems when these unpleasant or abnormal feelings and/or unadjusted or abnormal behavior might lead to a limitation in functioning either in daily life, work or sports.
What causes Mental health problems?
Mental health problems have various causes. Some might even be interlinked.
In general, there are many causes that put pressure on people’s mental health, such as psychological traumas, or unsatisfying living circumstances such as social isolation or poverty. People who have a family history of mental health problems are more likely to encounter problems.
Mental health problems can also be football related.
Severe injuries: Current professional footballers who suffer three or more severe injuries during their career are two to four times more likely to report mental health problems. Severe injuries are also correlated to post-career mental health problems among retired players.
Relationship with coaches and teammates: Professional footballers experiencing a deteriorated/bad relationship with coaches or teammates are more likely to report mental health problems.
Career dissatisfaction: Professional footballers unsatisfied about their career are more likely to report mental health problems.
Employment and working hours: Retired professional footballers who are unemployed are more likely to report mental health problems.
Post-career physical complaints: Retired professional footballers suffering from physical pain are more likely to report mental health problems.
FIFPRO published various studies about mental health problems and will continue to monitor players’ mental health.
A 2013 pilot study found that symptoms relating to depression and anxiety are highly prevalent in professional footballers. Follow-up studies confirmed the findings, which are mentioned in the graphic below.
In 2017, research among 262 professional football players found that severely injured players were nearly 2–7 times more likely to develop mental health symptoms in the subsequent 12 months by comparison with non-injured football players.
A 2015, research among 540 professional football players in 5 countries showed, among others, that 43 percent of players in Norway reported symptoms of anxiety or depression and 74% showed adverse nutrition behaviour, and in Spain 33% of players had symptoms of sleeping disturbance. In Finland, France and Sweden, both life events and career dissatisfaction were associated with distress, anxiety/depression, adverse alcohol behaviour, and adverse nutrition behaviour.
FIFPRO continues to raise awareness about mental health problems, and is also encouraging clubs and player unions to work towards the early identification of players at risk of mental health symptoms and the establishment of a referral network for adequate treatment.
If you would like to have information about mental health, please contact your national player union or FIFPRO.