Mental Health in Football

A World Cup special

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past two weeks, you may have noticed a rather large football tournament, The FIFA World Cup, has kicked off.

After just two weeks of football, and England winning their first two group games, England fans across the nation have inevitably started to believe the impossible; England are going to win the World Cup.

The more down-to-earth England fan will know that, fast-forward another two weeks, it will be pandemonium as England are knocked out on penalties by a small nation whose team consists of a full-time banker or dentist.

And while this will no doubt be classed as another national calamity, there is a much bigger problem at hand that needs to be tackled, and quick.

 

Mental Health is one of the leading health problems in the world, with one in four people being affected by a mental health disorder at some point in their life, and over 450 million people currently suffering with a problem worldwide. For men under 50, suicide is the leading cause of death in the UK.

FIFPro, the International Federation of Professional Footballers, revealed that mental health problems such as depression in football are more prevalent than first thought; so much so, that over one-third of players have reported mental health symptoms.

Mental Health plays a big part in the modern game, whether that be through players coping with a long-term injury, being released by a club, or struggling to deal with retirement. And yet, Gareth Southgate, the current England manager, admitted that players “are not comfortable opening up” in fear of showing “weakness in front of each other”.

 

Aaron Lennon, winger for Premier League side Burnley, is a prime example of this exact problem; detained under the Mental Health act back in April 2017, Lennon struggled with football impacting his day-to-day life.

“Probably for the last four or five years, I was not enjoying my football… you’re going home not a happy person and you’re not enjoying it. I was in a dark, dark place for a long time”, Lennon told the Telegraph.

Another high-profile name, Steven Caulker, currently playing for Dundee in the Scottish Premiership, also struggled drastically with mental health problems.

“Mentally, I was gone… and there was no understanding as to what was happening in my head. I’d go for days without sleeping. I don’t know how I survived it… that year was an absolute nightmare. I contemplated suicide a lot in that period”.

“Football does not deal well with mental illness. Maybe it’s changing but the support mechanisms are so often not there.”

 

Fortunately, Football is getting to grips with the problem at hand. The Professional Footballers’ Association say the number of players seeking help for mental health problems is increasing as awareness of the issue grow.

PFA Head of Welfare Michael Bennett has said high-profile figures such as Prince Harry talking about their experience of mental health issues is helping to change the "male mindset that it is seen as a weakness" and has helped to "bring the taboo down".

"We are trying to change that mindset because if you were to twist an ankle or pull a hamstring - because you can physically see it - you can treat it," added Bennett.

"But because mental illness is something you can't see it is not viewed the same."

 

But the system is improving; The PFA’s player welfare department was set up back in 2012 and offers support options, including access to a psychiatrist and a 24-hour helpline. The Football Association have also released an initiative called ‘Time to Change’, which aims to encourage football players to talk about their mental health and raise awareness of this issue in professional football.

Stories such as Lennon’s and Caulker’s are sobering reminders that, no matter someone’s status, wealth or ability, Mental Health doesn't discriminate. And although we are heading in the right direction, more still needs to be done to support players with mental health problems, and to finally show poor mental health the red card.

 

 

 

 

Luke Byerley

Marketing coordinator