Percentage of footballers reporting depression symptoms more than doubles, study finds

FIFPro reports sharp rise in number of players suffering mental health issues since coronavirus-enforced shutdown

A picture shows the locked gate and emblem at Liverpool football club's stadium Anfield in Liverpool, northwest England, on April 18, 2020. Premier League clubs remain committed to finishing the top-flight season but did not set a June 30 deadline to complete the fixture list at a meeting on Friday. With the English top flight on ice since mid-March due to the coronavirus, it had been reported that as many as nine clubs were keen to complete the campaign by the end of June. But it is understood that the 20 clubs did not discuss wrapping up the remaining 92 Premier League fixtures by then when they met on a conference call with league chiefs.
 / AFP / Paul ELLIS
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The global players' union FIFPro has reported a sharp rise in the number of players suffering with symptoms of depression and anxiety since football was forced into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

FIFPro said that 22 per cent of female players and 13 per cent of males who took part in the survey reported symptoms "consistent with a diagnosis of depression" such as lack of interest, lack of appetite, lack of energy and self-esteem.

The corresponding numbers were 11 per cent women players and seven per cent male players when the body last canvassed its members in December and January.

Eighteen per cent of women reported suffering symptoms of generalised anxiety, such as worry or tension, as did 16 per cent of men.

"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," said FIFPro's chief medical officer Vincent Gouttebarge.

"It is a time of huge uncertainty for the players and their families due to the insecurity of their future and the social isolation."

FIFPro said that the survey, conducted with the Amsterdam University Medical Centre, included 1,134 male players, with a mean age of 26, and 468 female players, with a mean age of 23, in 16 countries, in a period between March 22 and April 14.

It found that 11 per cent of females reported both anxiety and depression symptoms, compared to six per cent in the December/January survey.

In the male group surveyed in March and April, 7.5 per cent reported both anxiety and depression symptoms compared to four per cent in December/January.

General secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann said: "We're very conscious that what we're looking at here is a reflection of a problem in broader society that affects many, many more people than our members.

"The average contract length in football is under two years. We have many young adults, many of them living in foreign countries without their immediate or extended families being present for them.

"Many of them are incredibly dependent on their physical footballing skills in order to make a living. Many of them are not prepared for what would come after."

Nearly 80 per cent of players surveyed reported that they had access to sufficient resources and support for their mental health, often through their national player associations. Many national unions operate dedicated helplines for their members offering counselling and guidance on mental health issues.

Even though financial uncertainty is playing a part in the problems footballers are facing, Baer-Hoffmann said rushing to restart interrupted seasons was not a solution.

"We can only provide relief of these stresses if we are able to restart football in a safe environment," he said.

"If we were to pressure players back into an environment where they may feel their health and their safety is being put in danger, then that would add to their anxiety and concern."

Players from Australia, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, England, Finland and Norway took part in the December/January.

In addition to those countries, the March and April study also looked at players from Belgium, Botswana, Denmark, the Republic of Ireland, Malta, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa and the United States.