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FIFPro expects a significant increase in the number of active or retired professional footballers looking for mental health support, after the English PFA reported an explosive growth in players seeking help.

FIFPro’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Vincent Gouttebarge, advises member unions to step up or continue their mental health campaigns.

Our 2015 mental health research showed that 38% of current players and 35% of former players reported suffering from symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. Some of these players will be calling for help. Probably stories from other players encourage them to take that important step and ask for support.”

Gouttebarge reacted to the fact that in the first four months of 2017 already 178 active and retired players have contacted the PFA seeking support for mental health issues, much more than last year’s total of 160 calls.

Michael Bennett, PFA’s Head of Player Welfare, told FIFPro the rise is caused by an increased awareness of mental health itself and the union’s support program.

“Recently, people like Kelly Smith, Rio Ferdinand, Clarke Carlisle and Prince Harry publicly talked about their experiences and that has made other people feel more comfortable to talk about their problems,” Bennett explained.

Awareness

FIFPro and the PFA have been raising awareness for mental health wellbeing with various initiatives. The world player union has published several studies and last year distributed more than 10,000 guidebooks among professional footballers in 24 countries.

To help prevent mental health problems after retirement, FIFPro developed an after-career consultation for former players. A pilot of this project has been set up with Dutch player union VVCS and the Dutch FA. 

Bennett Gouttebarge 640Gouttebarge (pictured right): “Each player should realize, that it can happen to everybody, including him or her. There are so many causes, from serious injuries and contract issues, to life-changing events such as a death in the family.”

Since the PFA established its welfare department in 2011, Bennett has created a network with more than 100 counsellors, who are on standby across the country to support players needing help.

Bennett, a qualified counsellor himself: “If you have an injury, you go to the medical staff to be treated. Everybody understands that. Well, if you are suffering from mental health problems, you should go to someone who can help your emotional wellbeing.”

“Looking for support is not a sign of weakness. You are simply taking care of your health.”

Bennett (pictured left) advices player unions to continue their awareness programs. “The key is making members aware of the support system that is in place. The more you raise awareness, the more people will use the service.”

Understanding

Both experts also want to generate more understanding for mental health. Last week, when Aaron Lennon needed support, some media referred to the England international’s 55,000 pound weekly salary.

“I was very upset with that headline,” Bennett reacted. “Does it matter if the player is earning 55,000 or 500 pound a week? These players are people first.”

“As if a high salary implicates that you cannot have any problems,” Gouttebarge added.

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