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One of the most prominent players in the Indonesian top league is taking antidepressants each day.

Dane Milovanovic, a 27-year-old Australian midfielder with Madura United, suffers from anxiety and panic attacks.

“When I get up in the morning I take three pills and when the symptoms remain during the day I take another three. And if I cannot sleep, I have to take another one,” Milovanovic told FIFPro.

“My teammates were gobsmacked when I showed them how many pills I have to take each day.”

According to FIFPro research, up to 38 percent of professional footballers experience feelings of anxiety or depression. But not many players speak about them publicly.

“Like a lot of sportspeople, I first tried to deal with it myself without asking other people for help.”

Milovanovic agreed to speak to FIFPro about his personal situation in an effort to encourage others to seek support. “I want to help them. If I could help one other person, then that would already be great.”

Milovanovic has been fighting his demons for three years. This season, he had to quit two training sessions because of panic attacks.

On June 12th he had one during a match. “I did not feel safe on the pitch,” he recalls. “I had thoughts about killing myself. In the last 5 minutes I could not breathe properly, I had sharp pains in my chest, I was afraid of having a heart attack. I could not control myself anymore and threw up. I was really scared.”

Milovanovic was rushed to the hospital by ambulance and returned home to Australia a day later. He was prescribed a larger dose of medication, but that resulted in suicidal thoughts, which he was planning to see through. Luckily he spoke about it with his partner, who stopped him. Then he together with his family decided to enter a mental hospital. “I was really happy that I checked into that hospital, it was a hell of a job to do that.”

“But you should not be scared to ask for help. You only have one life and you have to take care of it.”

“I have been speaking with a psychologist, I have been meditating and reading a lot. Sometimes you can also be overthinking. Then your mind takes over. It is incredible how strong the mind can be.”

While Milovanovic was recovering in Australia his club struggled, winning only four of 10 matches. In August, Madura management called him and he decided to go back, even though he was still on medication and had only touched a ball twice since his panic attack in June.

“My family were very sceptical, because they know how much pressure is on me. But I think I needed to get back on the pitch. I just love playing football.”

Milovanovic went, but on his terms. “I told them I would come back if they would take a look at my contract. We had a two-minute negotiation and they presented me a new one and-a-half year deal. That was very important, because as a professional you are always playing for your next contract. Now I have the reassurance that I will be playing here for another season.”

He also arranged extra plane tickets for family or friends to come over if necessary. His father was there to support him during the first couple of weeks.

“I also told myself, if I cannot cope with it, I can book an online flight within five minutes and go home. I terminate the contract.”

Since Milovanovic returned, Madura has won five of six matches, and moved up to third position. He scored twice, both game winners.

“Luckily I have performed. People see how valuable I am on the pitch and how happy I am. However, sometimes I have trouble getting started in the morning, getting out of bed. I might not even go to training. It is still very difficult.”

The pressure on professional footballers can be high, Milovanovic said. “Everybody thinks that you are some sort of superhero and not really human. But we have the same difficulties in life as other people.”

“For us it can be more difficult, because there is a lot of pressure on us to perform each day. If we don’t perform, we could be out of a contract and maybe forced to find something new in life.”

“There are such high demands on foreign players here. I am a defensive midfielder, but they also expect me to score goals.”

“We don’t need extra pressure. We, professionals, already are enormously critical of ourselves. Most of the times we don’t praise ourselves enough for the good things we do, we only remember the things that went wrong.”

A few days after he returned to Australia in June, Dane Milovanovic posted a strong message on his Instagram, reporting on his own condition.

Milovanovic on Instagram 640