Updated 27 May 2014

Pro footballers are prone to depression

Contrary to popular belief, the life of a professional footballer has some dark sides and more than one quarter of professional soccer players suffer from depression or anxiety.


More than one quarter of professional soccer players who took part in a survey conducted by the world players' union said they suffered from depression or anxiety, FIFPro said on Wednesday 3 March.

The problem was even worse among retired players with 39% saying they were affected. "Symptoms relating to depression and anxiety are highly prevalent among professional footballers," said FIFPro in a statement as it announced the findings.

Read: Depressed football fans reach for junk food

"Contrary to popular belief, the life of a professional footballer has some dark sides," said FIFPro's chief medical officer Vincent Gouttebarge who conducted the research. "Football stakeholders have a collective responsibility to remove the stigma associated with mental illness," he said.

"All players, whether active or retired, can learn optimal behaviours and coping skills to manage the symptoms of mental illness." FIFPro said that 180 active professional soccer players took part in its survey.

Signs of burnout

26% reported suffering from depression or anxiety and adverse nutritional behaviour, 19% reported adverse alcohol behaviour, 3% said they had low self esteem and 7% said they were smoking, FIFPro said. 5% reported "signs of burnout."

Gouttebarge said the numbers were even higher among former players with 32% of the 121 interviewed reporting adverse alcohol behaviour and 12% saying they were smoking.

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Stopping intensive training a bad idea

"Once the players stop with intensive physical activities they lose their structured life, their social support by trainers and team mates diminishes, they need to find their place in 'regular' society, and find another occupation," Gouttebarge said. "Consequently, they are likely to experience some mental health problems during this period.

"When it comes to any health problem, be it physical or mental, over the short or long term, the minimum standard is to raise self-awareness of players about these issues," he added.

"They need to be aware of what might occur during and after their football career." FIFPro said it interviewed players in Netherlands, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the US.

Read more:
Head knocks in sport can lead to dementia
Depressed football fans reach for junk food

Meditation may reduce depression, anxiety and pain


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Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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