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New research links severe injuries to mental illness in football

Tue 6th Oct 2015 | Football Governance

New FIFPro research shows that symptoms of mental health problems are more widespread in current and former professional footballers than in the general population. Next to that, FIFPro has found a strong correlation between severe injuries and surgeries and the mental wellbeing of players.

The research, led by FIFPro’s Chief Medical Officer Vincent Gouttebarge (Assistant Professor at the Academic Medical Center, Amsterdam) and Professor Gino Kerkhoffs (Academic Medical Center, Amsterdam), builds on the pilot study on psychosocial health problems among professional footballers in 5 countries that FIFPro conducted in 2013. The new data was gathered from interactions with current and former professional players across 11 member unions on three continents.

The numbers confirm the validity of the 2013 research, and some findings indicate that the problems are even more serious than in the first research: 38% of 607 current players and 35% of 219 former players sampled reported suffering from symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. Sleeping disturbance (23% and 28% respectively), distress (15% and 18%) and adverse alcohol use (9% and 25%) have been found prevalent as well.

The study also finds that current professional footballers who had sustained three or more severe injuries during their career were two to nearly four times more likely to report mental health problems than professional footballers who had not suffered from severe injuries.

The data shows that the rates of depression and/or anxiety in both current and former professional footballers appear to be much higher than those of groups controlled to represent the general populous, and even other elite athletes. Scientific studies have placed the rates of feelings of depression and/or anxiety in a general population between the 13% reported in Australia and the 17% reported in the Netherlands, while a 2000 study on French Olympic athletes placed the rates at 17%.

This study represents the most comprehensive look at mental health problems in football to date, combining data supplied by FIFPro member unions in Belgium, Chile, Finland, France, Japan, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

“We hope that with this study comes increased awareness and commitment from all stakeholders in football to put supportive measures in place so that those suffering from mental health problems know they are not alone,” Dr. Gouttebarge says. “The present epidemiological study is a necessary first step in ultimately proposing adequate preventive and supportive measures aimed at protecting and empowering the sustainable health of active and retired players.”

“It is crucial to establish a body of work on this important topic. The findings in the current study might justify a multidisciplinary approach to a severely injured footballer. After surgery, the responsible team doctor and the orthopedic surgeon should be aware of the potential occurrence of symptoms of mental health problems which may accompany a serious injury. This awareness might allow (i) the early treatment of such health conditions, (ii) a better and safer return to sports, and (iii) the application of supportive measures to prevent the development of severe mental disorders in the long term.”

Dr. Gouttebarge hopes that this examination and further research will spur leaders in football to create “supportive measures” such as “exit-career examinations” which will, “aid the transition into post-career life and provide comfort to both current and former players that there is support for a previously taboo issue.”


  • 607 current and 219 former players participated;
  • 55% of current and 64% of former players played at the highest level in their country for the majority of their career;
  • Regarding depression and/or anxiety, 38% of current professionals and 35% of former footballers reported these feelings in the previous four weeks prior to finishing the questionnaire;
  • 9% of current and 25% of former players report adverse behavior pertaining to alcohol use;
  • Sleeping disturbance is a problem for 23% of current and 28% of former footballers;
  • 15% of current and 18% of former players mentioned they had feelings of distress in the four weeks prior to completion of their questionnaire;
  • In regards to current smoking behavior, 4% of current players and 11% of former players reported they currently smoked;


FIFPro would like to thank the unions from Belgium, Chile, Finland, France, Japan, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland for their support in the study, as well as Professor Gino Kerkhoffs for his priceless collaboration.

fcbusiness look at Mental Health in Football in the latest issue. You can read the article on pages 42/43 HERE.

Posted by: Kev Howland



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