Almost 10% of Premier League and EFL players surveyed last season by the Professional Footballers’ Association said they had experienced bullying during their careers, and almost 5% had suicidal thoughts.
Wellbeing data released by the PFA on World Mental Health Day highlights the social and mental health challenges current and former professionals face, and the work the union is doing to help its members.
Seventy-nine out of 843 male players in the EFL and Premier League surveyed across last season said they had been bullied at some point in their professional life, and 40 said they had experienced thoughts about taking their own life in the three months before completing the survey.
Dr Michael Bennett, director of player wellbeing at the PFA, said of the bullying statistics: “These are stark figures that illustrate how serious these issues are in the game. Based on this feedback, we have adapted the sessions this season to learn more about the type of bullying players face.
“It could be peer-on-peer bullying, for example, from teammates in the dressing room or training ground. It could be by club staff or management. We are particularly concerned around transfer windows. We know that players can be isolated from their squads when a club is trying to force a move. We are often dealing with cases like this. Ultimately, whether it is the training ground or the stadium on a match day, it’s a player’s workplace. They have a right to feel protected and safe at work.”
Twelve per cent of players (98) said they had felt pressured into getting vaccinated against Covid-19 or felt emotional distress about it. The data was gathered at wellbeing workshops held at clubs over the course of the 2021-22 campaign.
It found 189 of the 843 players – more than one-fifth – had experienced severe anxiety, to the point of feeling afraid or that something awful might happen.
Dr Bennett said: “Players are often at the mercy of a short-term focus and factors outside their control, such as injury, transfer policies and team selection. Any of which can have a dramatic impact on their long-term career. We host wellbeing workshops at clubs with players of all ages, ranging from the academy to first team. These sessions are vital in creating a secure place to discuss mental health.”
The PFA said that 520 members accessed counselling or support services via Sporting Chance last season. Forty-seven per cent were current players, 48% were former players and 5% were family members of players that the union agreed to support. Nine per cent of the 520 were female players, 86% of whom were current players.