Player Priorities: Time to Talk

Michael Bennett - Injured 2019

Thursday 6th February is Time to Talk Day - an initiative set up by social movement Time to Change.

The aim is to challenge the way we think about our mental health. Evidence suggests that 1 in 4 people will experience mental health difficulties at some stage in their lives, and the loaded expectations that come with playing professional football can be a conducive environment for issues to quickly develop. Several high-profile footballers have come forward to share their experiences around mental health in recent years, but despite this, a stigma around the issue remains. The PFA’s Wellbeing Department has been working hard to change this, and via the PFA Charity, established many support pathways for players past and present to talk if they need. Here we go through some of the services available. 

  • The Wellbeing Department visits every club in the professional leagues, to deliver mental health and wellbeing education workshops. These workshops help players understand what mental health looks like in a football context. They discuss how performance, looming retirement, injury and changing clubs can cause anxiety and the impact this can have. This has traditionally been a way for players to easily access the services available to them via the PFA Charity, and continues to be an important vehicle for opening up conversation. The workshops also educate players on what signs to look out for if a teammate may be struggling, and where to point them to for support. 
  • The PFA Charity also operates a private and confidential 24/7 helpline, for any player past or present who may need support. Addiction and poor mental health can be isolating, but the PFA Charity is committed to making sure you never feel alone. Calling the helpline or contacting the Wellbeing Department directly is the first step towards gaining the help you need and getting closer to recovery. 
  • Current and former players can access a network of more than 200+ nationwide counsellors/therapists, facilitated by our partners Sporting Chance, to get the help they need. Many of these counsellors/therapist have a background in professional sports including football, and understand the unique challenges that come with being an elite athlete. This counselling/therapists network can help players access crucial, local support that will help navigate their current feelings, and learn where to access additional support should they need it. 
  • Many former professional footballers have spoken out about issues with addiction, which often stem from the pressures of playing competitive sport. While industry-wide work has gone into preventative measures, these issues are still a reality, and the lack of open conversation around them can lead to players suffering in silence. The PFA Charity provides funding to Sporting Chance, who run a residential rehab facility to help footballers overcome these challenges. All current and former players, or their concerned family and friends, can access these services via the Wellbeing Department. 
  • Most of the wellbeing services the PFA Charity deliver are directly to players – but there needs to be a wider conversation if we are to change the narrative around mental health within football. Every year, the Wellbeing Department organise a mental health conference called Injured at St Georges Park. Representatives from all football clubs come together and learn how to make changes to improve players’ wellbeing. Club staff share best practice and take away vital information about the PFA Charity services to share with their teams, so that all players know exactly where they can turn to when they need some support. 

It’s always a good time to talk, today and every day. If any player past or present is struggling with their mental health, the PFA Charity is here to support you in any way we can. We urge you to contact the Wellbeing Department (click here), and remember, you are not alone.