Footballers and mental health

17 July 2013

If you managed to catch the recent documentary about professional football players and suicide, you will be in no doubt about the intense pressures players face throughout their careers. The combination of euphoric highs and crushing lows and the constant worry of serious injury can take their toll on the players. There’s also the intense media scrutiny of the profession - thousands or even millions of people watching your every move, audibly and severely criticising mistakes you make both on the field and in your personal life.

The programme was hosted by former footballer Clarke Carlisle, who spoke very honestly and eloquently about his own mental health difficulties and suicide attempt, as well as interviewing other footballers who had had experienced mental illness. “In football, you’re only one tackle away from losing everything” said Carlisle, talking about his 2001 injury that threatened to end his career.

Of course, the programme wasn't really just about footballers . It was about young men thrown into an extremely competitive and high pressure industry, and the effect this can have on their mental health. We know that men are much less likely than women to seek help for a mental health problem and that around 75% of suicides are men.  We also know that men are more likely to self-medicate their mental health problems, turning to drink or drugs to help cope. Programmes like this are important in helping to break the taboo of mental illness in men and in emphasising the fact that mental illness can affect anyone, regardless of their background or the success or apparent glamour of their careers.

As a coda, it is worth noting that football – along with other forms of participative exercise - can be very beneficial to mental health and wellbeing. You can read about these benefits here.