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Professional soccer players and other athletes who suffer concussion are more likely to report anxiety, depression and sleep disturbance after their career, according to new research.

The study surveyed 576 former first-division footballers, ice hockey and rugby players from Finland, France, Ireland, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. All were men aged under 50.

Former athletes who had four of five concussions during their career were 1.5 times more likely to report symptoms of common mental disorders than those who had no concussions.Those who suffered six or more concussions were between two and five times more likely to report these symptoms.

These findings mean that during the first 10 years after retirement, players are seven to 11% more likely to report symptoms of common mental disorders for each additional career-related concussion. The mean number of concussions was 3 per player.

The study was carried out by FIFPro Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vincent Gouttebarge and sports medicine experts from the University of Cape Town (South Africa), St. Marianna University School of Medicine in Kawazaki (Japan) and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow (Scotland).

These experts emphasize that there is a need to improve management of concussion, especially by educating players and coaches on the correct procedure when concussion occurs.

There should also be support in place for former athletes who are suffering with mental health problems, they said. There is no suggestion that these symptoms of common mental disorders indicate a degree of brain damage, the authors noted.

“This is an important piece of research that suggests concussion might be a contributor to the mental health problems suffered by many players,” Dr. Gouttebarge said.

“We as football stakeholders – federations, clubs and player unions - need to be alert to the mental health of players, both during and after their careers.

“That means educating players about the dangers of what can be an intense and stressful career and supporting them when they need assistance.”

Long-term injuries and mental health

Footballers are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and sleep disturbance after a long-term injury, according to an earlier study by FIFPro’s Gouttebarge and others.

Players who miss more than 28 days through injury are two to seven times more likely to experience symptoms of common mental disorders in the subsequent 12 months than counterparts who did not have any injuries.

The study is based on 262 male professional players from Finland, France, Norway, Spain and Sweden. They had a mean age of 27 years.

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