Football, like other team sports, is hugely beneficial to the social and mental wellbeing of billions of people around the world. At the same time, players and others involved in the sport are, like anyone else in society, susceptible to suffering from mental health issues.
World Mental Health Day (10 October) offers an opportunity to raise awareness of mental health problems and the importance of talking openly about them.
In addition to raising awareness generally, FIFA would like to highlight the challenges faced by footballers who give so much importance to the physical aspects of their game that they can often neglect their mental health.
Even at the elite level, footballers can suffer from mental health issues, as former Croatia national team player and FIFA Legend Dario Simic can attest:
Indeed, success is no guarantee of happiness and even in victory, league champions can have their own struggles. Emma Mitchell, Scotland and Arsenal Women defender, has shared her own experience learning the importance of talking about mental health.
“Looking back, I just had a really low mood, a constant pressure sitting on my chest, and I wasn’t sure what it was. I just withdrew, which is completely out of character for me... I’m fortunate enough to be at a club like Arsenal who offered me psychological support straight away and gave me time off.
"I spent a lot of time working with the psychologist, discovering where my feelings came from and making sure I allowed room for them. That seemed to lift the massive pressure from my chest.
“It’s so important that every player has the opportunity to speak to a professional if they do need help. That’s what we need to aspire to because mental wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing when it comes to performing at the highest level"
FIFA believes that education is a key part of tackling such problems and, for this reason, has dedicated an entire module of the FIFA Diploma in Football Medicine to this important topic. The course, available free of charge online, covers topics such as harassment and abuse, suicide, depression and eating disorders, helping football medical staff to identify signs of problems and provide the necessary support for their team.
Mentally strong players build mentally strong teams and are better able to provide others with strong support networks. With more open discussion around mental health issues, more footballers can enjoy better mental health and contribute to a healthier sport.
The FIFA Medical Network provides the opportunity for clinicians around the world to meet and share ideas relating to football medicine.
The FIFA Diploma in Football Medicine is a free online course designed to help clinicians learn how to diagnose and manage common football-related injuries and illnesses.