The stigma surrounding footballers seeking mental health support continues to lessen, and together with increased access to guidance, resources and trained health care providers, it has been easier for players to receive the help they need in recent years. Thankfully it’s not uncommon today for footballers to speak out about their mental health and put it on a par with their physical health and fitness.
A year like no other
No one could have predicted the kind of year that 2020 would turn out to be as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world. Live sports events were derailed, training schedules disrupted and for some players, professional careers cast into doubt.
With record numbers of players now seeking professional support for their mental and emotional wellbeing it’s perhaps no coincidence that take-up of Gallagher’s new mental health benefit has already been significant.
According to mental health charity, Sporting Chance, 2020 saw the sharpest rise of footballers seeking help for their mental health concerns. Latest figures from Q3 of 2020 reported that 464 members of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) accessed mental health counselling services1.
To put this number into perspective, the PFA has 4,000 members, meaning that in less than a year, more than 10% of members have sought some form of professional support for their mental health. When drilling into these numbers even further, 42% were current players, 55% were former players and 3% were family members2.
Common reasons for seeking help
Even at the peak of a professional footballing career players can wrestle with a range of mental health issues – both within and outside of the game. And once their playing career is over they may experience further mental and emotional challenges as they adjust to their new status.
Key triggers have been identified that lead to players seeking support to manage their mental health. Of the concerns cited by PFA members who accessed counselling, the most common causes were low mood, anxiety and addictive disorder (substance or gambling). Added to this list were relationship and family issues, financial issues, and the transition into retirement from their playing career. With suicide the leading cause of death for men under 453, the risks to players, both current and retired, should not be underestimated.
Professional footballing careers are getting shorter, and players are often younger when they leave the game than was typical in previous years. This suggests more needs to be done to reform the way footballers transition into the next stage of their life and career following retirement as a player.
Often, they are left facing what will still be a long working life with a skill they have developed and perfected over many years now seemingly unusable as it was before. This abrupt change has the potential to have a profound effect on a player’s mental health, so not only is there a call for more support for services such as counselling, but also for more to be done to help players retrain and reskill for the next stage of their career.
The effects of financial loss
Taking one of these key reasons for seeking help – financial issues – it may seem surprising to those outside of the game that a professional footballer, particularly in the Premier League where salaries are notoriously high, would have financial worries.
But despite enjoying lucrative careers while playing, retired footballers can end up suffering with severe financial difficulties and even bankruptcy. Some may have acted on poor financial advice, while others may lose money through divorce (which can be compounded by emotional loss) or addiction such as gambling or substance misuse.
In an article published by the Guardian in late 2018, it was revealed that more than 500 footballers may have lost up to £1 billion since retiring, due to poor investment advice4. Adding to this, research conducted in 2013 by the organisation XPro suggested that as many as 60% of former players, who earned huge salaries in their Premier League days, were declaring bankruptcy within five years of retiring.
A number of players have spoken openly about their financial loss as a result of addiction, including Paul Merson who blew a staggering £7 million on gambling, drugs and alcohol; and Lee Hendrie who was declared bankrupt after losing £10 million in a property deal, after which he made two attempts to take his own life5.
The Heads Up initiative
There have been several initiatives in recent years to highlight the need to talk more about mental health in sport. In 2019 the Heads Up initiative was launched – a campaign run jointly by the Football Association and the charity Heads Together, spearheaded by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It sought to change the conversation surrounding mental health, by urging the nation to discuss the topic as much as it talks about football.
Heads Up was not only an attempt to use football’s popularity to speak to men more broadly, but also of the need for the football community to address mental health. The raw numbers provided by Sporting Chance, suggest its message may be cutting through, but there is still a long way to go when tackling mental health issues such as career transition.
What is Gallagher doing to help?
We have recognised that mental health problems, addiction issues, and the challenges posed by career transition are risks that any UK professional footballer can face. With this in mind we have included some important benefits in our UK professional footballer cover*:
- Up to GBP 10,000 limit for professional therapy/counselling.
- Telephone counselling service available 24hrs a day, 365 days a year.
- Player does not need to suffer a career ending/personal accident scenario in order to use the professional therapy/ counselling benefits.
- 5% of the Sum Insured, up to a maximum of GBP 50,000 towards retraining for an alternative career after Football - should the player suffer from a Permanent Total Disablement.
*Policy limits and exclusions may apply, please see policy wording for full terms and conditions.
“From the beginning of my career I believed it was important to have protection in place in case of injury. When you suffer an injury as a player, short or long term, it is vital to keep a positive mind set and there is no doubt that having a Career Ending policy in place helped me do this. The insurance policy was introduced by my financial adviser, and arranged by Michael and his team – this gave me comfort that if my career was cut short, my family and I had the right level of financial protection. It also gave me complete peace of mind, so I could fully focus on my recovery and get back to playing professionally once again.” - Simon Francis, former Captain of AFC Bournemouth, 2021
For players, having an insurance policy that covers their mental health, the next stage of their career and their physical health gives them the reassurance of accessible support when they need it, and can help them continue to perform at their best.
Recognising and normalising mental illness can also encourage clubs to invest more in protecting and supporting mental wellbeing of their players.
For more product information, click here to visit our dedicated football insurance page.
To speak to a specialist at Gallagher about the cover, including further details about our mental health and career retraining benefits, please get in touch.
To speak to a specialist at Gallagher about the cover, including further details about our mental health and career retraining benefits, please get in touch. This note is not intended to give legal or financial advice, and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon for such. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and/or market practice in this area. In preparing this note we have relied on information sourced from third parties and we make no claims as to the completeness or accuracy of the information contained herein. It reflects our understanding as at 19/01/2021, but you will recognise that matters concerning COVID-19 are fast changing across the world. You should not act upon information in this bulletin nor determine not to act, without first seeking specific legal and/ or specialist advice. Our advice to our clients is as an insurance broker and is provided subject to specific terms and conditions, the terms of which take precedence over any representations in this document. No third party to whom this is passed can rely on it. We and our officers, employees or agents shall not be responsible for any loss whatsoever arising from the recipient’s reliance upon any information we provide herein and exclude liability for the content to fullest extent permitted by law. Should you require advice about your specific insurance arrangements or specific claim circumstances, please get in touch with your usual contact at Gallagher.