Almost a quarter of current and former professional footballers surveyed during the coronavirus pandemic said they were depressed or had considered self-harm.
The Professional Footballers’ Association surveyed 262 members between mid-April and mid-May to assess the impact of the crisis, and found that around 14% of the 111 current players it asked felt that way.
In total 57 of those surveyed – 22% – said they felt depressed or had considered harming themselves. The data showed that 182 of the 262 (69%) were worried about their future career or livelihood, and 72% were regularly aware of feelings of nervousness or anxiety. Almost three-quarters of the surveyed members (73%) said they were worried about matters relating to the football industry.
The survey also found that 24 of the group – equating to 9% – were experiencing difficulties with damaging addictive habits. Among current players, that figure was 2% and the PFA’s director of player welfare, Michael Bennett, highlighted the absence of routine as an aggravating factor.
Bennett said there has been an increase in members reaching out to the PFA for support, with more than 300 seeking wellbeing or educational support since the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown.
“For the current players it’s been the fact of [having] no structure,” Bennett said. “They don’t know if they’re going to go back to football, they don’t know if the football season will start again, they’re not sure what’s going on. There are financial situations with clubs furloughing players, there is deferral of wages. We have got a number of players who are living from pay cheque to pay cheque and this is having a real impact on them emotionally.
“Also health issues – if we do go back to the season, can it work? Will it work? What about my family? All those sort of ‘what if?’ questions kept coming up. From the former players it was questions about employment. A lot of them are self-employed; coaches, taxi drivers and stuff like that. They were having emotional issues because of the financial impact that they couldn’t work. You get the stress, the anxiety and the depression that comes from that.”
Out of the survey group, 177 required support around wellbeing, education and career and employment/contractual services, and 32 asked to speak with a counsellor or therapist and were directly contacted, provided they authorised contact. The PFA charity paid out 100% more in benevolent funds in April compared with March in response to the Covid-19 crisis.
• In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email [email protected] or [email protected] In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.