Lesson

Mental health of football players

Despite some prominent cases, mental disorders are rarely reported in elite football players and other top-level athletes. It is possible that the physical activity, the team support or the “privileged” life (for example, financial security, access to various resources and the adulation of the public) associated with professional football protect these players from getting mental disorders, or that people with a predisposition for mental disorders do not become high-level athletes. But it is also possible that the stigma attached to mental health issues makes it an under-investigated and under-reported area in football and in sport in general.

Mental health issues are common

Despite some prominent cases (e.g. Robert Enke, Sebastian Deisler, Paul Gascoigne, Leon McKenzie, Richard Sadlier, Dean Windass, Darren Eadie, Neil Lennon, Stan Collymore, Andreas Biermann, Gianluigi Buffon, Babak Rafati), mental disorders are rarely reported in elite football players and other top-level athletes.

Scientific data relating to the mental health of athletes is rare, and most studies have severe methodological limitations. The very few studies on mental health problems among football players indicate that mental health problems are at least as frequent as among the general population.

Depression and general anxiety disorder seem to be the most frequent mental disorders in football players.2,3 However, football physicians should also not fail to notice disordered eating and suicidal intention. Therefore, these four topics will be described in more detail in this module.