2,500 players ask for help with mental health… young stars reach out for PFA’s support

The pressures on young footballers in Britain were laid bare after it emerged that almost 2,500 players have sought professional help with their mental health since 2018 alone.

A total of 2,434 professional footballers in the UK have taken up the PFA’s offer of therapeutic support over the past four and a half years, the Mail on Sunday has learned.

It may also be revealed that the number of young players seeking help from experts for their mental health is on the rise, with the Professional Footballers’ Association partly attributing the trend to issues related to the pandemic. The players’ union said cases of players approaching their counseling team as victims of abuse were also on the rise.

2,500 players ask for help with mental health… young stars reach out for PFA’s support

The PFA has confirmed an increase in the number of abuse victims and young stars approaching them for mental health support (Pictured: PFA Executive Director Maheta Molango)

The Duke of Cambridge believes the football community has made “significant progress”

The figures emerged as British football authorities were preparing a report on the work being done to support the mental health of both those working in the industry and society at large.

The Mentally Healthy Football document, which is published on Sunday, includes a foreword from the Duke of Cambridge in his role as FA chairman. The Duke writes that he is confident the football community has made “significant progress” in this area.

The PFA offers emotional support to players through its welfare department, which is led by director of player welfare, Dr Michael Bennett, a former Wimbledon and Charlton professional.

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Bennett’s team visits clubs to conduct workshops on the topic of mental health and give them the opportunity to complete a survey that includes questions about their personal well-being.

Bennett told the Mail on Sunday that ’99 per cent’ of players complete the form. His team then confidentially approaches those believed to be at medium to high risk and offers therapeutic support.

His team has visited 60 clubs this season and hopes to reach 75 before the end of the campaign. They have carried out ‘hundreds’ of the ‘interventions’ notifying players that they might need help.

So far in 2022, 307 players have chosen to access the PFA emotional support network. The equivalent figure in 2021 was 528 players, in 2020 it was 508 (although the confinement limited the number of workshops), the 2019 total was 653 and the 2018 total was 438.

“The workshops were given to players under 18, under 23 and first team, as well as WSL clubs,” said Bennett. ‘It addresses different areas related to your well-being: how have you been feeling in the last three months? Have you been agitated? Sleep problems, gambling problems, anything like that.

“Usually from a team of 20 to 25 players, we have two or three who show up for some kind of therapeutic support. Some players come to us later, when they have worked up the courage to do so. Others come forward seeking support from other departments: community, education, or training. The uptake is there. It is quite positive.

Alumni Player Voice was created after Jeremy Wisten committed suicide in October 2020

Alumni Player Voice was created after Jeremy Wisten committed suicide in October 2020

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Alumni Player Voice was created after Jeremy Wisten committed suicide in October 2020

Bennett said young players find it difficult to deal with the old-school, possibly abrasive, approach of some coaches. An increasing number also have to deal with online abuse. He said that the number of them seeking help is also increasing because young footballers are more prepared to seek advice than their predecessors.

“In the last year to 18 months, the recruitment of younger players to under 21s has grown,” Bennett said.

‘That has been the highest acceptance. We talked to them about the emotional roller coaster of football and the dangers of the industry. Long-term injury, being away from family, finances, marriages, having children, moving across the country, and then we recognize that it’s important for them to be able to talk about how they feel.

“They find it difficult to talk to the club because they are worried that it could play against them. And sometimes they don’t want to worry or burden their family.’

The Mentally Healthy Football report, which was also produced in collaboration with the Premier League and the Football League, further details the work of an initiative established last June to support trainees in the game.

Alumni Player Voice was created after Jeremy Wisten, Manchester City’s former academy player, committed suicide in October 2020. An inquest into his death said Wisten, who was released by City in 2018, found it difficult See your former teammates. ‘ Progress.

Tob Sho-Silva, the 27-year-old former England youth international who now plays for Carlisle United, said: ‘I have been involved in all the Alumni Player Voice sessions. If this forum existed when I was a young player, it would have given me an idea of ​​how to better handle the situations I was experiencing, or even those I hadn’t experienced yet.’

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The PFA has also established a support network for members of the LGBT community.

Once a promising England Under-20 international making his league debut as a 17-year-old at Charlton, Bennett was inspired to retrain as a counselor and psychotherapist after finding the pressures of the game difficult as a young player. .

He went from struggling to cope with the considerable expectations placed on him to sustaining a serious knee injury that threatened to derail his career. “I want the players to know there is support available for them now that it wasn’t there when I was a player,” he said.

Mentally Healthy Football is posted on the Premier League website at 8am on Sunday. www.premierleague.com

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