It's Time to Talk about mental health, says football

Thursday 05 Feb 2015
PFA head of welfare Michael Bennett

Football has made great strides in addressing the mental health of players but more can be done, according to the Professional Footballers’ Association.

Today is Time to Talk day, where people in this country are being encouraged to have a chat about mental health, and help break down the stigma and discrimination that exists.

Progress towards that goal has been slow in professional football, where the combination of high expectations, a macho environment and a win-at-all-costs mentality places real strain on players.

Time to Change

Find out more visit

Michael Bennett, a former Charlton Athletic, Millwall and Cardiff City winger, and now head of player welfare at the PFA, knows from personal experience that the life of a professional player can be a lonely one.

He said: “When I played the game I went straight from school to Charlton, when I was 16, without having an experience of professional life.

“The banter was something I found very difficult: it was a win-at-all-costs environment and I had to put a mask on.

“In order to perform I didn’t feel I could be myself.

“Then when I had a bad knee injury at 20 I needed someone to talk to.

“I had a very close-knit family but they weren’t into football. I wanted someone at the club or someone in that environment to speak about what I was going through. That wasn’t there.”

The PFA runs two offices, in Manchester and London, where players can seek advice on mental welfare.

Bennett also oversees outreach and educational work in clubs – and the uptake has been considerable.

“Having this neutral body – away from the clubs and with the players’ best interests at heart – it works”

Michael Bennett PFA

“A lot have said that talking about mental health is very hard,” he said

“You don’t want your manager to know because they might think that you are not in the right frame of mind and that might affect you playing on a Saturday or a Tuesday.

“That might affect your ability to get a contract and that might affect your life.

“Having this neutral body – away from the clubs and with the players’ best interests at heart – it works.”

Bennett and his team of counsellors address a wide range of personal problems.

“The problems vary a great deal. Often it’s the pressure of the game, or not playing, or maybe the manager doesn’t like the player.

“It might be injuries or financial problems or marital problems. It could be gender problems.

“Usually there is a root issue to problems so if a player has depression or stress or anxiety there is an issue behind that which we need to look at.

“And usually when we look at a root issue we tend to find that the stress, anxiety or depression alleviate.”

He added: “We want to give players the comfort of knowing that there are people they can talk to in a private and comfortable environment, and enable them to go on and live their lives.

“The big issue we have is that it has to be a private conversation. Players need to be aware that what they share goes no further than in the room.

“I think when I say that it gives them peace of mind and helps them feel comfortable, relaxed and able to speak about the issues that have arisen.

“And I believe it has made a huge difference.”

Get Help With Talking About Mental Health. Break The Stigma. Time to Talk.

By James Callow Content manager