Exercise and most sport is good for physical health including mental wellness. Yet many world reknown footballers have succumb to depression and anxiety disorder.
Often burnout is the trigger for mental disorder and is more common amongst Footballers than the general population. This is due to many factors including the perfectionistic demands of the sport, stress of consistent public criticism and scrutiny, fear of injury, disillusionment with the game, loneliness and constant travel. Burnout is oftne a major trigger of depression and many other mental disorders. (Sarmento et al, 2021).
Some of the biggest names in Football has fallen victim to mental struggles showing that mental disorder is not a personality weakness. Their stories help to bring awareness to the signs of mental conditions as well as solutions for a healthier mind.
One of the world’s greatest strikers, Christiano Ronaldo is a household name in the world of football. He shares that one of the biggest problems about recognising mental disorder amongst Footballers is the lack of awareness of the signs and symptoms of mental disorder and lack of help available.
“The reality is that we didn’t even know this kind of problem existed. It was absolutely ignored among our generation.”
“Many, obviously, have gone through terrible times, even depression, because of the lack of privacy, the lack of freedom.”
“It is true that the problems were very obvious, but the solutions were not very available.”
However, Ronaldo has benefitted from therapy:
“I have been in therapy for two and a half years and I understand myself much better than before.”
The Man Utd Midfielder shared openly with ‘Le Figaro’ magazine about his brush with depression and why it happens.
“In football it is not acceptable but we are not superheroes, we are only human beings,”
“One is judged every three days, we have to be good all the time, although we have worries like everyone, whether that’s with our partners, our coach, in everyday life.”
“I have been through it, but we don’t talk about it. Sometimes you don’t even know you have depression, you just want to be isolated, to be all alone, these are the unmistakable signs.”
“You ask yourself if there is something wrong with you, because you have never experienced these moments in your life.”
“Of course we earn a lot of money and we don’t complain, really. But that does not prevent you from going through these moments in your life.”
“If you are not shielded mentally, you are dead in this sport. These tests will be the making of you, but you must not let your guard down.”
He adds that despite his struggle with depression he chooses to look at the positive side.
“I don’t want it to be the case that these negative moments make me forget all my achievements.”
His solution it to speak with his psychiatrist and find support in his family.
“My psychiatrist can be my best friend, my wife or my son. To speak, to be listened to, to get out all of this rage and this depression that is gnawing at you is obligatory for me.”
Joe Bryan shared his story with ESPN’s Mental Health Awareness that many days he would wake up ‘feeling like s—-‘. His struggle with Anxiety Disorder causes him to doubt himself.
“I still question whether I have a right to be playing where I am, whether I’m good enough to be where I am.”
The nights are not kind to him either as he struggles to sleep because:
“You’re internalising everything, and your brain is throwing up these scenarios that would never happen, and it’s like a snowball.”
He didn’t know why he was struggling so hard.
“The thing for me was… I didn’t know what it was. I couldn’t put my finger on why I was feeling this way, and it throws up more questions. So unless you’re chatting to someone who knows what you’re feeling like, it’s hard.”
Fortunately, his physiotherapist noticed a change in his behavior and alerted him to get help.
“I was lucky that a physio… Natalie at Fulham, pulled me aside and said ‘you’re not the same person since you joined here.”
Since his journey of recovery, Bryan has a different perspective which helps him in managing his anxiety.
“My challenge this season has been staying calm, not getting annoyed and just trying to do my work and use it as an opportunity to develop as a person.”
“I’m aware that football doesn’t define me as a person. I love it and I’ll do everything I can on the pitch to succeed and to help the club, but I don’t define myself by my ability as a football player. There’s a whole lot more to my life than that. If you focus too much on what people think of you as a footballer, then it can be dangerous, that’s something the last two years have really taught me.”
What about you
Being watchful of the signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety disorder and getting help early can bring about recovery faster. Here’s how you can check in with yourself or a friend, if you are not quite yourself lately.
If you have been having suicidal thoughts, please get help immediately.
Reference: Sarmento, H., Frontini, R., Marques, A., Peralta, M., Ordoñez-Saavedra, N., Duarte, J. P., Figueiredo, A., Campos, M. J., & Clemente, F. M. (2021). Depressive Symptoms and Burnout in Football Players: A Systematic Review. Brain sciences, 11(10), 1351. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci11101351