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Between 3 and 9 professional footballers in a 25-person squad could show symptoms of common mental disorders such as distress, anxiety or depression, during a season, according to new research by FIFPro released on World Mental Health Day.

In total 262 players from five European countries (Finland, France, Norway, Spain, and Sweden) participated in a so-called longitudinal research led by FIFPro chief medical officer Dr. Vincent Gouttebarge and Professor Gino Kerkhoffs (Academic Medical Center Amsterdam). They asked these players to fill in questionnaires on three moments during a twelve-month period. These players had already participated in a previous part of the study in 2014.

The results confirm the validity of the first findings that professional footballers are likely to experience symptoms of common mental disorders. 37 percent of players who did not report symptoms in 2014, reported symptoms of anxiety and depression during the 12-month period of the research, far higher than the 26 percent in the previous research.

Gouttebarge emphasises that the players reported symptoms, and were not diagnosed with a severe mental disorder.

2016 Mental Health Study hor 640

Gouttebarge says the study should raise self-awareness on symptoms of common mental disorders in professional football. “From a club’s perspective, our findings emphasise that it is important to have a medical staff with various experts that works on professional footballers’ physical and mental health.”

In this study, 95% of the players thought that symptoms of common mental disorders negatively influence football performances, with 65% stating that their own football career was influenced. 84% said that there were not enough support measures during their football career to properly manage symptoms of common mental disorders.

“From a union’s perspective, our findings show the importance to FIFPro and all players’ unions of promoting and protecting the physical and mental health of professional footballers during and after their career.”

Guidebook

To raise more awareness about mental health problems, FIFPro has created a special guidebook in 15 different languages. It explains symptoms of common mental disorders and provides information for support. “We have shipped more than 10,000 guidebooks to 24 countries”, Gouttebarge adds.

The project was initiated at the 2015 FIFPro General Assembly, where a majority of member unions indicated the need for a guidebook to inform their players.

“This guidebook should help convince players that mental health problems are common, also in football, and can really endanger one’s health and career. We know there still is a taboo, but players should not feel embarrassed in seeking support.”

Guidebook ENG 640

After Career Consultation

In collaboration with Dutch players’ union VVCS and football association KNVB, Gouttebarge launched a pilot project called “After Career Consultation”. One of the most challenging periods in the life of a professional player coincides with the moment he or she stops playing football. The player has to find a new purpose in life and also has to deal with the physical and mental consequences of his or her football career.

To help smoothen the transition, all partners developed a program built around five pillars:

  • training reduction;
  • dealing with osteoarthritis;
  • healthy lifestyle;
  • mental health;
  • education and career planning.

“One of the main causes for mental disorders are the problems that players encounter after finishing their active career. With tailor-made information, personal advice and professional guidance we aim to improve the health, vitality and quality of life for players who recently stopped playing professional football”, Gouttebarge said.

“If the pilot is successful, we will strive to implement the after career consultation in other ‘FIFPro’ countries.”

 

Also read:     “Seek advice before you retire” 
Paul McGee: the footballer who beat depression 

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