More and more footballers are seeking help for mental health problems as awareness of the issue grows, according to the Professional Footballers’ Association.
The subject has come into focus again after Everton winger Aaron Lennon was detained under the Mental Health Act amid concerns for his welfare in Salford on Sunday.
Lennon was taken to hospital on Sunday to be assessed and is being treated for a stress-related illness.
Since 2012 the PFA has provided a dedicated service to help with its members’ well-being and the numbers taking advantage of that are on the rise.
“We put a player welfare department in place in 2012 because I felt a lot of onus was being placed on the physical aspect of players playing football and not enough on their emotional side, and I think the two go hand-in-hand,” Michael Bennett, PFA head of welfare, told Press Association Sport.
“Last year we had 160; of which 62 were current players and 98 were former players, and that is growing year-on-year.
“Key for me is making our members aware of what is in place and the more we raise awareness, the more people will use the service.
“I think it is a male mindset that it is seen as a weakness so for people like Clarke Carlisle, Rio Ferdinand – even Prince Harry – to talk about their own experience brings the taboo down and you become more comfortable being able to talk about it.
“We are trying to change that mindset because if you were to twist an ankle or pull a hamstring – because you can physically see it – you can treat it, but because mental illness is something you can’t see it is not viewed the same as something you can see.”
The PFA has put in place a system which offers a variety of help and advice options, ranging from a 24-hour phoneline to access to a psychiatrist.
“We decided we needed to put in place a network of national counsellors around the country: we started with 28 in 2012 and now we have 100-plus,” added Bennett.
“Stress, anxiety, depression are a symptom of something and we try to work out what the root issue is and then place them with the nearest counsellor to where they live, and they just get on with it in a private and confidential setting.
“We are also aware some players or members don’t want to speak to someone face-to-face so we set up a 24-hour telephone helping where they can speak to a qualified counsellor any time.
“If we have severe cases, we have psychiatrists we use that can let us assess the player and show us what best routes there are to support them.
“What we are trying to do is educate about what it looks like and what it looks like in the context of football, so they have a better understanding when they encounter it and where to go for support.”