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Mental Health in Football

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Mental health in football is a common issue and the awareness for this is growing especially with recent high profiled cases such as Aaron Lennon and Gary Speed.

The PFA (Professional Football Association) are working hard to help and support players. Michael Bennett the PFA Head of Welfare stated: “We put a player welfare department in place in 2012 because I felt a lot of onus was being placed on the physical aspect of players playing football and not enough on their emotional side, and I think the two go hand in hand. Last year we had 160 [requesting help], of which 62 were current players and 98 were former players, and that is growing year on year. Key for me is making our members aware of what is in place and the more we raise awareness, the more people will use the service.”

Bennett also added, that with high profile figures such as Prince Harry, Clarke Carlisle and Rio Ferdinand talking about their experience with mental health and the battles that comes with it, will help to change the “male mind-set that it is seen as weakness”

It is said that 1 in 4 footballers suffer from depression which is a staggering number. Mental health disorders have most commonly been found in young players who don’t go on to get professional contracts, players who are injured and players who are retired. For the young player, football is often all they know and with the realisation that a professional contract is not going to happen can spur on depression. The sad realisation about this is that a lot of talented young players don’t make it and when you’re young and all you can see yourself as is a footballer, it is very hard to take on board. They believe they have nothing else to fall back on and that they have failed thus promoting an unfortunate state of depression.

Footballers who are injured, especially long term, have so many obstacles to overcome. Not only working on the injury doing practical work, stretches and routines to aid their recovery, they also have a mental hurdle to overcome staying focused and staying motivated on their recovery. Alongside this, they have to watch their team mates play week in week out, which can force players into a dark place developing feelings of jealousy and resentment towards other players making them believe their career is over. They begin to hate the game they have loved for so long.

A lot of footballers find the most difficult stage in their career is the shock of retirement and the return to so called ‘normal life.’ This is the most common stage for a footballer to start developing depression and where support for them needs to be at its highest. Football Fans idolise players and believe they live in a bubble above the rest which in some cases speaks true. However, they are still human with emotions just like any other person and mental health issues do not care for status and profile when it strikes it can be devastating.

So what are the PFA and football clubs doing about this?

The PFA have created a 36 page footballer’s guidebook which has been handed out to every player in the top four divisions. They have a 24-hour helpline with full access to psychiatrists right across the UK. Football clubs have also hired counsellors to conduct weekly meetings with players to talk about their lives and mental capacity, thus allowing players to talk to someone confidential within their own club. This helps to spot any signs of depression or other mental health problems early and help prevent onset later on in their career.

For anyone who believes they are suffering from mental health issues there is help for you! Sometimes it can be just accepting your illness and telling someone. The smallest of steps can help resolve the bigger problems.
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