PFA focuses resources on tacking rising player mental health issues

May 16 – Professional footballers are often much-maligned as over-paid prima donnas but a new survey proves they, too, have their inner demons much like other members of the public.

A record number of players are seeking mental health support, according to the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) that covers England and Wales.

PFA director of player welfare Michael Bennett expects the organisation to help “double or treble” the number of players in 2019 than it did in 2018.

Since January, 355 professionals have accessed therapy – the highest number ever recorded by the end of a season. The figure for the whole of 2018 was 438, having risen from 160 in 2016.

“When players go back to pre-season, that’s when those who haven’t got contracts realise they’re struggling mentally, emotionally and financially,” says Bennett, who played professionally for several clubs, including Charlton Athletic and Brighton & Hove Albion.

Meanwhile a new campaign using football to “generate the biggest ever conversation around mental health” has been launched by the Football Association.

In partnership with mental health charity Heads Together, ‘Heads Up’ will “harness the influence and popularity of football” to “show the world that mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness”.

The campaign, which is particularly aimed at men, is being spearheaded by the Duke of Cambridge who wants to use the sport to encourage more men to discuss depression.

“As FA president I saw an opportunity to bring the sport I love – that many men talk about more than anything else in their lives – to help lead the next phase of the conversation,” he said.

FA chief executive Martin Glenn added: “Mental health remains one of the biggest issues facing men under the age of 45. Around 12 million people play football in England each year, with even more watching on, and Heads Up will use the power and popularity of football to drive awareness and change.”

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