Mental and psychosocial health among current and former professional footballers

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Abstract

Background

In common with elite athletes from other sport disciplines, severe or recurrent injuries in professional footballers are considered to be major physical and psychosocial stressors, which may predispose to mental health problems during and after their career.

Aims

To determine the prevalence of mental health problems and psychosocial difficulties in current and former professional footballers, and to explore the association between psychosocial stressors and the health conditions studied.

Methods

Based on validated scales, a paper and electronic questionnaire was developed for current and former professional footballers and distributed by the World Footballers’ Union (FIFPro) and players’ unions in six countries. Prevalence was calculated and cross-sectional analyses were conducted.

Results

The response rate was 29% with 253 responses available for analysis. The prevalence of mental health complaints ranged from 5% (burnout) to 26% (anxiety/depression) in 149 current players and from 16% (burnout) to 39% (anxiety/depression) in 104 former footballers. The prevalence of psychosocial problems ranged from 3% (low self-esteem) to 26% (adverse nutrition behaviour) in current players and from 5% (low self-esteem) to 42% (adverse nutrition behaviour) in former footballers. In both current and former players, mental health problems were significantly associated with low social support (odds ratio [OR] = 1.1) and recent life events (OR = 1.4–1.6). In former players, previous surgery was significantly associated with smoking (OR = 1.9).

Conclusions

The prevalence of mental health problems and/or psychosocial difficulties in current and former professional footballers was found to be high. The presence of mental health problems was associated with low social support and recent life events.

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