Many players who are report symptoms have a desire to seek treatment. It has been shown that almost 40% of top-level German female football players wanted or needed psychological support at least once during their careers – but only 10% received it. The use of antidepressants also appears to be very low in this group. 5 These two findings suggest that football players may not be receiving adequate treatment for mental health problems.

Click on the following tabs to read more about some of the treatments that can be used to manage mental health disorders in football players.

It appears that many players do not seek support for mental health problems. This is for many reasons, including stigma, a lack of understanding about mental health and its potential influence on performance and the perception that seeking help is a sign of weakness. The education of players, coaches and administrators about these issues should allow early reporting and treatment. In this way, we should be able to reduce the morbidity, as well as the performance effects, associated with these conditions.
It appears that psychotropic medications are not widely used for football players – or other athletes. This is despite evidence that shows that the incidence of mental health disease is similar to that of the general population. A study of doping control samples has shown that only 0.14% of all samples collected over a ten-year period were positive for antidepressants. 5 Compared with the general population, this rate of prescribing is very low. As with all patients, medication should be considered when designing a comprehensive treatment plan.
Psychotherapy is a broad term that is used to describe a range of psychological interventions. These generally seek to improve an individual’s well-being and mental health, to resolve or mitigate troublesome behaviours, beliefs, compulsions, thoughts, or emotions, and to improve relationships and social skills. These treatments are widely used to help football players improve, and manage, their mental health.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one widely used psychotherapy technique. The goal of the therapist is to attempt to change a player’s thinking or behaviour. In this way, they may become better able to manage some of the stressors that have contributed to them developing their symptoms. Group therapy is sometimes used to help treat players with mental health issues. It can be very reassuring to know that there are other players who are facing similar issues.

It is important to make sure that players have ongoing support and follow-up. Mental health issues can recur so it is important to make sure that any further symptoms are identified early and that treatment is initiated.

Prof Astrid Junge

Professor of Prevention and Sports