Severe injuries linked to mental health

Dr Vincent Gouttebarge from the World Players’ Union (FIFPro) has conducted research to determine how common mental illness symptoms are amongst retired professional footballers. Some of these symptoms include distress, anxiety, depression, alcohol use, smoking, and sleep disturbance. He also wanted to find out whether there was a link to stressors such as injury and career dissatisfaction.

An electronic questionnaire was used and distributed to players unions in 11 different countries across three continents. Professionals of sport are at risk of injury and some are forced to retire; in this situation mental health problems are likely to occur. This report highlights ‘retired professional footballers are also at risk to suffer from osteoarthritis, a pathology known to potentially induce mental health problems’.

The criteria used to participate in this study was as follows:

  • Being a member of a national players union
  • Being 45 years old or younger
  • Being male
  • Fluent in English, French, Japanese or Spanish


FIFPro asked the national players unions in Belgium, Chile, Finland, France, Japan, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland where members were selected at random. The variables included were age, length, body mass, career duration, level of play, squad position, current occupation, education level, duration and nature of retirement.

There were 249 participants out of a possible 357 and out of 249, 219 participants were retired professionals. Three quarters of the retired professionals studied were employed and worked an average of 35 hours per week. During their professional playing career they suffered on average three severe injuries and had undergone surgery twice.


  • 11% adverse smoking behaviour
  • 18% distress
  • 35% anxiety/depression
  • 65% adverse nutrition behaviour


In comparison to a recent study carried out by FIFPro, the symptoms of mental health issues among professional footballers showed a much lower percentage.


  • 4% adverse smoking
  • 9% adverse alcohol behaviour
  • 38% anxiety/depression
  • 58% adverse nutrition behaviour


An important statistic noted by Guskiewicz et al in 2007 showed 11% of retired National Football League (NFL) players had been diagnosed with clinical depression strongly related to recurrent concussion.



If you want to read the report in full please click here.

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