Requests for help with mental-health problems on rise, says footballers’ union

Andy Hunter
Aaron Lennon has garnered plenty of support from the sporting world. ‘Stay strong. There is light at the end of the tunnel,’ the former world heavyweight champion boxer Frank Bruno tweeted. Photograph: Michael Zemanek/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

The number of footballers seeking help for mental health problems is rising, the Professional Footballers’ Association has said.

Aaron Lennon continues to receive treatment for a stress-related illness after the Everton winger was detained under the Mental Health Act on Sunday after Greater Manchester police became concerned for his welfare on a busy road in Salford. Lennon, who has won 21 England caps, was taken to hospital and is continuing to receive care with the support of his club.

He has not played for Ronald Koeman’s team since 11 February but had trained as usual at Everton’s Finch Farm base on Saturday in preparation for Chelsea’s visit to Goodison Park the following day. The 30-year-old was not included in the matchday squad and police were called at 4.35pm on Sunday.

It is understood the former Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur player, who joined Everton for £4m in 2015, has no history of mental health issues.

Lennon received messages of support from across sport. The former world heavyweight boxing champion Frank Bruno, a mental health ambassador, tweeted: “Thoughts are with Aaron Lennon today, stay strong & as positive as possible, there is light at the end of tunnel. You will get through this boss.” The player’s representative, Base Soccer Agency, said: “Everyone at Base Soccer sends their support to AaronLennon12 – get well soon and stay strong.” A statement from Everton said: “Thank you for all the kind messages for Aaron. We are supporting him through this and his family has appealed for privacy at this time.”

Following news of Lennon’s illness, the PFA revealed a growing number of footballers are using a dedicated service it provides to help its members’ mental health.

Michael Bennett, the PFA’s head of welfare, said: “We put a player welfare department in place in 2012 because I felt a lot of onus was being placed on the physical aspect of players playing football and not enough on their emotional side, and I think the two go hand in hand. Last year we had 160 [requesting help], of which 62 were current players and 98 were former players, and that is growing year on year. Key for me is making our members aware of what is in place and the more we raise awareness, the more people will use the service.

“I think it is a male mindset that it is seen as a weakness, so for people like Clarke Carlisle, Rio Ferdinand – even Prince Harry – to talk about their experience brings the taboo down and you become more comfortable being able to talk about it. We are trying to change that mindset because if you were to twist an ankle or pull a hamstring – because you can physically see it – you can treat it, but because mental illness is something you can’t see it is not viewed the same as something you can see.”

The PFA provides a variety of help and advice options for its members, including a 24-hour phone-line and access to a psychiatrist, and employs more than 100 counsellors nationwide.

• In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14.

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