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20th Apr 2020

Number of footballers with depression symptoms has doubled since COVID-19 lockdown

Wayne Farry

The rise was reported in a study conducted jointly by FIFPRo and Amsterdam University Medical Centers

The number of footballers reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety has risen sharply during the COVID-19 lockdown, a study has found, with the number reporting symptoms of depression doubling over that time.

FIFPRO, worldwide representative organisation for 65,000 professional footballers, and a number of national associations conducted the study between March 22 and April 14 and surveyed 1,602 professional footballers in countries that had implemented what are considered drastic measures, such as stay-at-home lockdowns.

The 16 countries in which players were surveyed were Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Ireland, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland, South Africa, Switzerland and the United States.

In total, 13 percent of the male footballers and 22 percent of the female players reported symptoms consistent with depression, while 18 percent of women and 16 percent of men reported symptoms consistent with anxiety.

As well as the isolation which many of us are living through currently, footballers have reported worries over the interruption to their working lives and concerns over the future of their careers.

“These figures show there has been a sharp increase in players suffering from anxiety and depression symptoms since the coronavirus shut down professional football, and I fear that this is also the case for the whole of society facing an unprecedented emergency because of COVID-19,” FIFPRO Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vincent Gouttebarge said.

“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. Some may not be well equipped to confront these changes and we encourage them to seek help from a person they trust or a mental health professional.”

75 percent of the players surveyed stated that they had access both to sufficient resources and support for their mental health, something which is provided by the majority of the 16 associations.

Rather than being a call for football to resume as soon as possible, FIFPRO General Secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann has stated that this study illustrates the need for footballer’s stakeholders to consider the wellbeing of players and all else who work within football when considering when to resume widespread play, and not simply look upon the game as entertainment for viewers.

“These findings also underline how important it is that football stakeholders work together during these uncertain times by making collective agreements that maintain social stability and relieve pressure for all employees in the industry, including the players,” said Baer-Hoffmann.

Calls for professional footballers to support one another during this difficult time have also come from Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini and Olympique Lyonnais defender Lucy Bronze, members of the FIFPRO Global Player Council.

“It’s very important that football players, like families and other communities, look after each other during this difficult time by staying in touch via phone or video-calls,” Chiellini said. “Keep in touch with your teammates, especially if you think they may be depressed or anxious. Let’s keep the team spirit strong even when there is no football.”

“It’s a worrying time for everyone, and in terms of jobs security, many footballers are in a precarious position,” said Bronze. “If you are having a tough time mentally about your health or your job, speak with a person you trust, or a mental health professional. It’s important not to keep your feelings bottled up. It really helps to share them with someone.”