Taboos about mental health in football

Recent high profile cases have shown the severe mental health problems many current and former professional footballers face. It is easy to assume that these sportsman lead a blessed life away from the pressures and anxieties that most of us face, however, the actual facts point to a very different reality.

Pressure to perform, short careers, a lack of a good or consistent education and large earnings from a very young age ensure that a large number of these men face real issues with their mental health.

What should be done? This problem lies in the very structure and foundations of the game. Revenues into the game increased massively with the start of pay per view and the introduction of the Premiership. The pressure to perform to hundreds of millions of viewers across the world and to compete in an exceptionally competitive environment are just some of the drivers of the problem and why you need a comprehensive and professional approach to deal with these issues.
Therapy is often available to the players and many of them are in the fortunate position to access high quality CBT and Counselling from the private sector, however, the old fashioned view of therapy remain in football and it is still seen with suspicion.

What are the advantages to the clubs and the governing bodies of dealing with this? The apparently endless spiral of ex-players such as Paul Gascoigne brings negative attention to football and raises serious questions about the ethics of putting, often vulnerable, boys into high pressure, and competitive environment from such a young age. If the clubs and regulatory bodies can adopt a more responsible approach to the early years of a footballers career (from as young as 8 years old) they can grow up with a more balanced view of the world and a better understanding of their position in it.

Specialist treatments are available for people in these difficult situations. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) with a Psychologist is the correct approach. If retired players such as former Arsenal and England Left Back, Kenny Samson, had received the appropriate therapy and help at the start and end of his career, he may not have found himself struggling with alcoholism and facing homelessness as was recently reported. The 54 year old, who was capped for England 86 times and was the subject of a £1 million pound transfer fee in the 1980’s, a time when £1 million was still a massive amount in footballing terms, has well documented issues and was involved in the game at a time when drinking was actively encouraged and formed part of the bedrock of the game.

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