Are Footballers More At Risk Of Depression, anxiety and suicide? Do professional footballers have a higher risk of mental health issues when they retire than the general population? Many professional footballers enjoy exciting careers playing the game they love. But what happens when it all comes to an end? Do most cope well with the change, or do they struggle with mental health?
Depression and suicide in Swedish male elite football players
A group of scientists in Sweden studied male elite football players, both during and after their active careers. The aim was to see if they were more likely to suffer depression, anxiety, and suicide. The study included male football players from the Swedish top division from 1924 to 2019. They compared them with the general male population based on age and region of residence.
Using extensive nationwide registers, the researchers tracked players from the start of their top division career, or from January 1, 1997. They compared their risk of depression and anxiety-related disorders with the general population. They measured mental illness through hospital admissions, outpatient visits, and prescription drug use. Additionally, they examined the risk of suicide in footballers compared to males in the general population alive in 1969.
What the data tells us
The results, based on data up to December 31, 2020, showed that 13.6% of footballers experienced depression or anxiety-related disorders. This compared with 22.3% of the general population males experiencing the same. They concluded footballers had a lower risk of depression and anxiety compared to the general population. They adjusted the data for age, region, and time.
However, this protective effect diminished as the players got older. At around age 70, the risk became similar between the two groups. The risk of suicide was also lower in football players compared to the general population.
In summary, this nationwide study conducted in Sweden found that male elite football players had a lower risk of depression, anxiety-related disorders, and suicide compared to the general population.
Why might footballers be at lower risk of mental health problems?
Although not part of the study, it is interesting to speculate why footballers experienced fewer mental health problems. On the one hand, the job is very high pressure with no security. Also, having gotten used to a particular lifestyle with a purpose, coping when it’s gone could be challenging. However, for those of us who look at the lifestyle of elite professional footballers, it is easy to hazard a guess. Here are a few suggestions:
Footballers have a healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise. This might mean they are fitter than the general population in their 30s and 40s. Or they find getting regular exercise easier. Many earn large salaries during their careers. Therefore, worrying about paying the mortgage might not be as much of an issue.
- Read more detail on the study here.