Football & Mental Health: Tackling the Stigma

A crucially important topic that is commonly overshadowed by the thrills and spills in modern football, is mental health. According to the mental health charity ‘Mind’, approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime. And for professional athletes it is no different; according to the BBC, professional footballers suffer more from symptoms of depression and anxiety than the general public. With the irrational amount of money in the Premier League, what is being done to help players suffering from mental health issues? And what is causing professional players to suffer?

The FA state that football has many benefits in aiming to improve mental health, such as by promoting social inclusion and reducing obesity. They have also launched the nationwide campaign “Time to Change”; aiming to tackle the stigma around mental health and encourage coaches to talk more to players about the issue, and players to seek support amongst themselves. Mental health problems can affect anyone – footballers too. I’m pledging to support Time to Change… It’s ok to talk about mental health.” Tony Adams ex England and Arsenal player.

There are many reasons professional players suffer from mental health issues, ranging from not being selected for their respective team and retirement, to having a fear of failure and being unable to cope with the pressures they face. The increased coverage of mental health in football has prompted the increase in initiatives and club involvement in helping mitigate against mental health issues.

The Professional Footballers Association (PFA) have said that data shows that 438 current and former professionals accessed therapy in 2018, 278 more than two years ago. Michael Bennett, former England youth international and current PFA welfare director exclaimed “Dealing with injuries, transition in and out of the game, going on loan and feeling isolated, foreign players being lonely and so on, and then you can have problems related to money worries or addiction. This shows the variety of issues that individuals can face is great and must be supported by clubs and their NGB’s (National Governing Bodies) like the FA.

Clubs are slowly but surely improving their reaction to mental health. The main problem with mental health issues in football is that from a team’s perspective, they are not seen to hinder performance as much as physical health. This has had major negative effects on players in the past, with them often being forced to play regardless of their emotional wellbeing. Everton FC took a leap forward in 2017, making a massive £1m investment on a mental health centre directly next door to Goodison Park. The centre, named ‘People’s Place’, is designed to support players and members of the community through their program ‘Everton in the Community’.

Although the process is slow, progress is beginning to show. It is becoming clearer each season that mental health is a topic becoming progressively important amongst professional sport clubs and the wider population.

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