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FIFPro Europe hosted a dozen footballers and some 30 player unions at a workshop on mental health in Hoofddorp, the Netherlands.

The objective was to help unions raise awareness about mental health and support players with issues like anxiety and depression.

According to FIFPro research, footballers are more likely to suffer from such issues than the rest of the population: 38% of active professional players reported symptoms of depression in 2015, according to the study.

At the two-day workshop, footballers from countries including Cyprus, Finland, Montenegro and the Netherlands spoke about coping with stressful moments such as a career-ending injury, making a crucial mistake in a matches and relocating abroad.

Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, FIFPro Europe Secretary General, said: “The public discourse around mental health in elite sport is changing and athletes are at the forefront of changing how society deals with these widespread health concerns.

“This is encouraging but at the same time most players don’t yet receive the required support themselves. The workshop is part of a wider initiative by FIFPro to build support systems for our players across our member countries.”
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Picture: Michael Bennett of PFA England, Nancy Chillingworth of Rugby Players Ireland and Beau Busch of PFA Australia led the breakout sessions.

Michael Bennett, head of player welfare at the English Professional Players Association (PFA), told how a 24-hour help-line for players which the union set up provides support for hundreds of footballers every year.

Beau Busch, PFA Australia’s player development manager, said: “The conference was an ideal opportunity to connect and learn from each other as we continue to strive to provide the best possible support to our members.

“What was clear throughout, was the deep commitment all FIFPro members have to ensuring the wellbeing of the players.”

Workshop sessions included identifying players at risk for mental health problems, advising players on how to cope with stress and bereavement, and creating a referral network of health professionals.

Representatives from Rugby Players Ireland, U.K.’s Professional Cricketers Association and Dutch football club Vitesse Arnhem were among those who shared information about their work on mental health.

Former Dutch speed-skater Stefan Groothuis, an ambassador for the Dutch Depression Association, recounted how he struggled with anxiety, insomnia and depression before winning a gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Games.