Tuesday 10 October 2023, 10:00

World of football continues to take strides to raise mental health awareness

  • World Mental Health Day 2023 takes place on 10 October

  • FIFA launched #ReachOut campaign in August 2021

  • Increasing number of footballers and athletes are speaking out

World Mental Health Day 2023 takes place this Tuesday, 10 October, providing people and communities with the opportunity to unite behind the theme “mental health is a universal human right” and improve knowledge, raise awareness and drive measures that promote and protect everyone’s mental health as a universal human right, as underlined by the World Health Organization (WHO).

With the support of the WHO, FIFA launched #ReachOut in August 2021, a campaign designed to raise awareness of the symptoms of mental health conditions, encourage people to seek help when they need it and take actions every day for better mental health.

We regularly encounter mental health-related issues in our daily lives. Our society is making progress, and it is increasingly common for public figures to normalise these problems, which is a keystep towards finding solutions.

In an admirable show of honesty, Tottenham Hotspur head coach Ange Postecoglou recently opened up about problems associated with mental health during a press conference, seizing the opportunity to support the club’s forward Richarlison. A few weeks ago, TV cameras captured the attacker in tears on the bench after having been substituted during Brazil’s 5-1 victory over Bolivia in the sides’ FIFA World Cup 2026™ qualifier, which clearly showed that all was not well.

“I’ve been through a turbulent time off the pitch in the past five months,” the player later revealed, before stressing that he planned to seek psychological support to improve his mental health. Unfortunately, his case is far from being a one-off.

In recent months, a number of players have spoken out about their problems, and footballers are not the only sportspeople to voice their issues. Many athletes have decided to take time out of their careers to look after their mental health after taking the brave step of sharing their stories.

Macarena Sánchez, the first female to sign a professional contract in Argentinian women’s football, made her struggles public: “Talking about my depression was the first step to overcoming it.” Sánchez, who was an instrumental figure in promoting the professionalisation of the women’s game in the South American country, shared her depression diagnosis.

Meanwhile, Wales defender Evie Gane has struggled with mental health problems throughout her life. Since her childhood, she battled archaic attitudes from peers and teachers as she pursued her dream of playing football. At 22 years of age, she penned her maiden professional contract with Coventry United, but far from being all that the youngster had imagined, it proved to be a nightmare.

Within six weeks, Gane had suffered a nervous breakdown, was diagnosed with depression and contemplated committing suicide. The pressures of football had exacerbated her mental health issues. Her GP played a key role in her road to recovery: “I’ve learnt to make decisions based on happiness because, most of the time, the only person you’re battling in life is yourself, within your own head. Happiness makes that battle so much easier.”

Irene Lopez was one of the rising stars of Spanish women’s football, but in February 2022, she plucked up the courage to step away from the game to take care of herself: “From the day we’re born until the day we die, you’re the only person on that journey, and you have to look after yourself,” read Lopez’s heartfelt social media post, which went viral.

Elsewhere, Canada goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé, a champion at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020, has since spoken about the anxiety issues and panic attacks she suffered at the competition: “No matter how much I wanted to relax and celebrate with my team-mates, I just couldn’t climb back down from that heightened state of awareness. I basically spent the 48 hours following the final lying in a dark room.”

Such confessions are not just limited to those in the world of football. At the Tokyo Games, American gymnast and global icon Simone Biles decided to withdraw from the competition just before the team final. “I don’t trust myself as much anymore. I have to focus on my mental health,” she admitted at the time.

A few days ago and following a two-year break from competing, Biles once again flew the flag for her country at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships, where she claimed two gold medals and etched her name into the history books with a vault now named in her honour.

There is a common thread that permeates all of these cases: mental health problems can only be dealt with once the issue is spoken about openly. Fortunately, there is increasing visibility surrounding mental health issues, and although there still remains a degree of stigma associated with these problems, the fact that athletes from all over the world are able to reveal what they are going through is very important for our society.

FIFA aims to do its bit through the #ReachOut campaign, which underlines the importance of raising mental health awareness, with the support of both current and retired footballers. The campaign launch featured the participation of a number of FIFA Legends, including Aline, Vero Boquete, Cafú, Laura Georges, Luis García, Shabani Nonda, Patrizia Panico, Fara Williams and Walter Zenga.

The campaign highlights cases such as that of former Bolton Wanderers and Team GB forward Marvin Sordell or Sonny Pike, who was dubbed “the next football star” at the tender age of 14, while Teresa Enke shared the pain she felt following the suicide of a loved one and details of her work at the Robert Enke Foundation.

Befrienders Worldwide

Befrienders Worldwide provides help and support to those in distress or feeling suicidal, around the world. Visit www.befrienders.org/ and www.befrienders.org/other-helpline-organisations to find support in your country.

Please note that while every effort is made to ensure information is accurate, FIFA is not responsible for the content of external websites. If you are in imminent danger, please call your local emergency services.

Supporting non-profits working to improve mental health

The FIFA Foundation supports local projects that use the power of football to effect positive social change and address the most pressing global challenges facing underprivileged children and young people around the world.

The Pure Game (thepuregame.org) Pure Game is changing how children develop by using the power of sport to help them make meaningful connections with peers and adults, and to help empower them to forge their own pathways to success. The NGO organises sport-based activities in California, working with schools and local authorities to ensure families and caregivers can enrol their children into subsidised sports programmes, focusing on improving mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.

Soccer in the Streets (soccerstreets.org) Soccer in the Streets is a legacy NGO focused on engaging the youth of Atlanta through sports. With an emphasis on skills development and social-emotional learning, the programme also works to connect young people with positive role models, inspiring them to follow the right paths for them. Through football, trained coaches teach life skills such as personal responsibility and mental health awareness, creating a lasting relationship of trust and a feeling of community.

Todo el contenido de la campaña #ReachOut