ADVICE: PFA Scotland Advice on Mental Health

Mind Games: Mental Health in Scottish Football.


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Support:Mental Health in Football is a new initiative set up to identify and treat mental health issues in the sport.

While the physical risks associated with football are well-known, there has until now been less emphasis placed on the incidence and impact of mental health issues on players.

PFA Scotland have been tackling the issue of Mental Health in football for a number of years working alongside a number of organisations including Breathing Space, See Me and SAMH.

Last year, Dr John MacLean and his staff at Hampden Sports Clinic joined forces with PFA Scotland to investigate the incidence of mental health issues in players across the 42 SPFL clubs.

After securing UEFA grant funding, Researcher Dr Katy Stewart, in conjunction with PFA Scotland, circulated two surveys with the results confirming significant levels of both anxiety and depression, with a number of trigger factors identified.

  • We received more than 600 responses from players across SPFL clubs
  • Of that number, 64% says they themselves or a team-mate had experienced a mental health issue
  • 162 of these players returned a follow-up, more indepth questionnaire identifying the need for further consultation and, in some cases, referral for face-to-face support and treatment
  • More than 40 players identified to have a significant issue have been seen or spoken to with many referred for more intensive treatment available under this new Support programme

Going forward, any player experiencing Mental Health issues, gambling problems, drink, drugs and other forms of addiction can contact a specialised confidential phone line  – via calling or text – where they will speak to an experienced Sports and Medicine Doctor, who will provide initial support and agree a support plan going forward.

The services offered range from phone advice, face-to-face assessment, medical support, clinical psychology and counselling.

To access Support call 07702 565916 or for more information click the link below:


One in four of us will experience a mental health problem, like depression or severe anxiety.  There is still a great deal of stigma surrounding mental health problems, and this can be especially true for someone under constant public and media scrutiny, like a professional footballer.  At the same time players are constantly subject to high demands and pressures.  Under these circumstances, it can be hard to maintain good mental health.

A footballer’s life can be stressful, and without help and support, it can lead to problems with mental health.  For example:

-Young players may be released or rejected by their club

-Players can suffer from long term or serious injury

-Players may retire from the game

-There can be vast and instant reductions in income

-Players can find themselves out of the team

-As well as the general pressures of being a professional player

While we cannot instantly remove the stigma that surrounds players and mental health issues, we can challenge it, and offer information to players to ensure their mental health is considered as vital as their physical well-being.

PFA Scotland wants players to be aware that suffering from any form of mental health problems will have significant impact upon their physical performances and therefore their displays on the pitch.

More importantly it can have serious implications for your personal life and therefore players should feel comfortable in approaching us or the expert associations we have developed relations with should they require assistance or information.


One of the key issues preventing more people from coming forward about their mental health problems is stigma.

One in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some point on our lives.  That means that three quarters of us know someone with a mental health problem.

The stigma of mental ill-health has been called “one of the last great taboos.”  People with mental health problems often tell us that the reactions of family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and employers is harder to deal with than the illness itself.

Stigma can range from being ignored and excluded to verbal and physical harassment and abuse.  81% of people with lived experience of mental ill-health told “see me” that they had experienced stigma, and yet nearly 90% of the public feel that people with mental health problems should have the same rights as anyone else.

How’s your mental health?

Some common mental health problems include:



-Panic Attacks




Possible symptoms of depression include:

-Feelings of hopelessness

-Feeling inadequate/not as good compared to other people


-Self Hatred


-No longer enjoying things you once did



-Noticeable changes in weight (gain or loss)

-Loss of energy or motivation

-Loss of sex drive

-Disturbed sleep

-Poor concentration, indecisiveness

-Irritability, anger

-Social withdrawal

-Unexplained aches and pains

-Self harm

-Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

It is a long list and no doubt anyone reading it will see at least one “symptom” that they have personally experienced.  So when should you be alert to what is “normal” and what is a warning sign?

Depression is a term commonly heard and many people will experience depression at some point as a consequence of an event or situation that has a negative impact on them.  For example losing a loved one can cause feelings of depression, as can losing an important football match.  However, for most people, time and personal coping mechanisms allow us to manage these feelings in a healthy way and they eventually subside.

The problems can come when these feelings remain nad are a constant presence in your life.  When they begin to interfere with your everyday life, and get in the way of what you would like to do then you should seek advice or help.

What to do?

If you have read the list and you are concerned about how much relates to how you are feeling we would advise contacting your GP and explaining to them how you feel.  However if you are not comfortable with this idea at first you can take the Depression Test on the ”Look ok….Feel Crap” ( website as this might give you a possible idea about whether you should seek further help.  Alternatively you can contact the specialist organisations listed below for more information:

Breathing Space 0800 838587

Action on Depression 0808 802020 



Anxiety-we all experience it, in fact for some of us it is an essential part of what makes us the best at what we do!  Short term anxiety, like a player may experience before a football match, can make you more alert and improve your performance; it is the adrenaline charge that you need to be at the top of your game, therefore this is “normal.”  However if you experience anxiety at the thought of everyday tasks, such as going to the shops or socialising, then this is not a healthy reaction.  Symptoms of anxiety include:

-Muscle tension (which may lead to headaches)

-Rapid breathing (this may make you feel light headed)

-Pounding heart (caused by increased blood pressure)

-Nausea and sickness

-Being on edge

-Being irritable

-Unable to relax or concentrate

The effects of anxiety can impact on how you think about things, you may start to think of everything in extreme negatives.  For example you can’t get hold of somebody on their mobile and you begin to worry that they have had a serious accident, or if somebody has to rearrange a social meeting you may become anxious that they are actually cancelling and that you have done something to upset them.

Panic Attacks

Anxiety can sometimes cause panic attacks, these can happen at any time or for some people they may be caused by a “trigger”, either way they can very frightening and distressing.  A panic attack will have physical and mental symptoms; an overwhelming feeling of anxiety may be accompanied by any of the following (and all at the same time):




-Hot flushes or chills

-A shortness of breath/struggling to get breath

-Chest pain

-Dizziness/feeling faint

-Dry mouth

-A churning stomach


Panic attacks can last between 5 and 20 minutes.  If you experience a panic attack the best thing to do is to stay where you are (pull over from driving, do not attempt to get where you were going), try and focus on something which is non-threatening and visible, for example your watch or an item on display whilst attempting to regulate your breathing and slow it down.  Do not try to fight a panic attack, this can make it worse.  Instead try to focus your energy on calming thoughts.


“I’m dead stressed!”  It’s a common term that is often heard, but that does not make the statement any less true, or mean that the person who is saying it is not feeling that way.

Stress is the feeling of being under too much pressure (be it emotional or mental).  Everybody experiences pressures in their life; at home, at work, from friends, family, fans and the press.  However, different people react in different ways to this pressure.  For one person, a pressurised situation may increase motivation (the pressure to perform that you may experience at training or during a match may create the extra “drive” that you need to be the best) , but for some people this pressure may lead to stress.

Stress itself is not an illness, but it can lead to serious problems if not tackled.  Symptoms of stress can gradually build up over time and include:

-Feeling irritable/anxious/negative about yourself/general low mood

-You may have a shorter “fuse” than normal

-You may find you are drinking or indeed smoking (more)

-You may feel that you do not want to go out and socialise any more

-Your eating habits may change (eating less, eating foods you know are bad for you)

-You may find it hard to concentrate on anything

-You may experience headaches, stomach problems, feeling dizzy, sexual problems (lack of sex drive or impotency)

Stress is not something that is preventable (you cannot change how you feel about something), but what you do in reaction to feeling stress can make a difference:

-Chilling out to music or reading a book

-Taking your mind off things with another activity you enjoy



-Talking to someone about it (if you do not feel you can approach a friend, colleague or family member, then Breathing Space on 0800 838587 is a phone line which has been set up to talk to people who feel this way)

Things that do not help feelings of stress are:



-Sugary Snacks

-Skipping meals

-Bad sleeping habits




Most people who experience mental health problems never consider suicide.  But as the figures below show, it is much more common than you think.  This is why people need to be able to talk about suicide.

-About two people die every day by suicide in Scotland

-Most people who die by suicide are men (three out of four)

-Suicide is the biggest killer of people under the age of 35

-Suicide affects all ages, people and cultures

Thoughts about suicide

When events, pressures and feelings become overwhelming it can lead to thoughts of suicide.  If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts then it is extremely important you do not try and cope with it alone.  Speak to a trusted person about your thoughts, this should be someone who you trust to be able to listen to you fully and support you without judgement.

It takes a lot of courage to talk to someone about suicide and if you are worried about their reaction in the first instance then there are several people you can speak to first (calls are completely confidential and you can remain anonymous if you want to)

Breathing Space 0800 838587

Samaritans 116 123 (Free)

Anyone can call Samaritans, you don’t have to be suicidal. Whatever you’re going through, call us for free any time from any phone on 116 123 (this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill), email, or visit to find details of your nearest branch.

Speaking about Suicide

The best way to prevent suicide is to talk about it.  If you think that somebody you know may be thinking about suicide the best thing to do is ask them directly.  Openly listening to, and being willing to talk about, someone’s thoughts of suicide can be a big relief for the person AND it can be the key to preventing the immediate danger of suicide.

-It is a myth that talking about suicide will encourage someone to attempt it

-It is a myth that if somebody wants to end their life then they will and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

If you would like to know more about how to provide somebody with that help, and have the confidence to talk about the suicide then “The Art of Conversation”  is a helpful guide to talking and listening.

Any player can contact any of the PFA Scotland team (numbers are available in the “About Us” section of the website) at any time should they wish to discuss any of the issues covered.