Footballers to receive advice on depression

All ex-football players are to be sent a booklet advising them on how to handle depression. The guidance is being issued by the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) and comes following the death of former Leeds United and Newcastle United midfielder Gary Speed.

It is 36 pages in length and is being delivered to the group's 4,000 members this season, as well as 50,000 ex professionals.

The PFA said it was eager to act on the issue, even though it has not yet been confirmed whether or not Speed was suffering from depression.

Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the PFA, said he wanted to let all those involved in the sport know there is a support system in place.

Susannah Strong, author of the booklet - entitled The Footballers' Guidebook - said: "It's an extraordinary sport where you get people to the absolute physical perfection - and yet there's no attention paid whatsoever to the mental health of footballers."

Dr George Sik, Chartered Psychologist, commented: "There are two separate aspects to what is being discussed here. The first is that there is a great deal of research to support the fact that exercise and the pursuit of hobbies and interests can reduce feelings of certain kinds of depression. 

"This is to some extent because exercise and taking part in enjoyable activities encourages the production of chemicals called endorphins which are connected with happiness. 

"It is therefore the case that football, like other forms of exercise, particularly at an amateur level with its associated social aspects, is likely to help combat depression as recent clinical research shows.

"On the other side of the coin, there is no doubt that today's professional football at the most elite level can have intense pressures associated with it linked with not wanting to let people down, constant demands on your time and energy and, increasingly, financial and business aspects of the sport. 

"This can affect managers who have to accept responsibility for the performance of a whole team, but also certain players and ex-players who feel left out of a life to which they have become accustomed. The culture of the game has historically been one of not admitting to any weakness or uncertainty, of not letting others see any 'chink in your armour', of stoicism and 'suffering in silence'. This is obviously not helpful to anyone experiencing feelings of depression. 

"The PFA initiative in bringing this issue into the open should therefore be applauded: players, ex-players and managers affected by depression deserve help rather than ridicule."