Notably, the percentage of professional footballers reporting symptoms of depression has doubled.
Between March 22 and April 14, FIFPRO and affiliated national player associations surveyed 1,602 professional footballers in countries that had implemented drastic measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus such as mass home-confinement. 1,134 male players, with a mean age of 26, and 468 female players, with a mean age of 23, took part in the survey.
Twenty-two percent of women players and 13 percent of men players reported symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of depression. Eighteen percent of the women and 16 percent of the men reported symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of generalized anxiety. (In most scientific research, a higher number of women than men report symptoms of depression and anxiety.)
The percentage of players reporting symptoms was significantly higher among those worried about their future in the football industry, the survey found. In a separate survey of 307 players, with a similar mean age, in December and January - before most football competitions were suspended - 11 percent of the female players and six percent of the male players reported symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of depression.
“Suddenly young men and women athletes are having to cope with isolation, a suspension of their working lives and doubts about their future”
“These figures show there has been a sharp increase in players suffering from anxiety and depression symptoms since the coronavirus shut down professional football, and I fear that this is also the case for the whole of society facing an unprecedented emergency because of Covid-19,” FIFPRO Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vincent Gouttebarge said.
“In football, suddenly young men and women athletes are having to cope with social isolation, a suspension of their working lives and doubts about their future. Some may not be well equipped to confront these changes and we encourage them to seek help from a person they trust or a mental health professional.”
Players were surveyed in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Ireland, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland, South Africa, Switzerland and the United States.
More than 75 percent of players surveyed reported that they had access to sufficient resources and support for their mental health. Most player associations in the 16 countries surveyed provide mental health support for players such as a helpline and access to trained counsellors.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, FIFPRO and player associations have been providing players with advice to look after their mental health.
“It is positive that the majority of players we surveyed know they have somewhere to turn if they have mental health problems,” Dr. Gouttebarge said. “This shows professional football is more aware than ever of the importance of mental health.”
Previous research by FIFPRO has shown football players are equally susceptible to mental health issues as the general population. FIFPRO is working on a mental health toolkit for 65 affiliated player associations that will provide them with basic primary care for footballers who require support. The toolkits will be distributed in the coming months.
“These new figures are extremely concerning and our heart goes out to all the players who are struggling with their mental health,” FIFPRO General Secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann said. “We are encouraged by the tremendous work our affiliated player associations are doing to raise attention about mental health, and we will continue to support them where possible in this vital work.
“These findings also underline how important it is that football stakeholders work together during these uncertain times by making collective agreements that maintain social stability and relieve pressure for all employees in the industry, including the players.”
Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini and Olympique Lyonnais defender Lucy Bronze, members of the FIFPRO Global Player Council, urged their fellow professional footballers to support each other during the pandemic.
“It’s very important that football players, like families and other communities, look after each other during this difficult time by staying in touch via phone or video-calls,” Chiellini said. “Keep in touch with your teammates, especially if you think they may be depressed or anxious. Let’s keep the team spirit strong even when there is no football.”
“It’s a worrying time for everyone, and in terms of jobs security, many footballers are in a precarious position,” Bronze said. “If you are having a tough time mentally about your health or your job, speak with a person you trust, or a mental health professional. It’s important not to keep your feelings bottled up. It really helps to share them with someone.”