Background The mental health of elite athletes has received increasing attention in recent years, but no study has evaluated the career–time prevalence of depression, and very few have analysed risk factors of mental health problems during or after the career.
Methods 157 (response rate 64.1%) female players who played in the German First League answered an anonymous online survey on details of their football career, stressful and helpful conditions, depression and need of psychotherapeutic support during and after the football career.
Results The career–time prevalence of depression symptoms was 32.3%. Significant differences in the average depression score were observed for playing positions (F=2.75; p<0.05) and levels of play (F=3.53; p<0.01). About half of the players (49.7%) stated ‘conflicts with coach/management’ as an important reason for their low in moods, followed by ‘low in performance/injury’ (48.4%) and ‘too little support/acknowledgement by the coach’ (40.0%). ‘Psychological strain/stress’ (46.5%) was (after injury) the second most important reason for lows in performance. During their career, almost 40% of players wanted or needed psychological support, but only 10% received it. After their career, the percentage of players wanting or needing psychological support decreased to 24%, of whom 90% received it.
Conclusions The high prevalence of depression symptoms in combination with low use of psychotherapy during the career shows the need for de-stigmatisation of mental health issues in elite football. Furthermore, it seems very important to educate coaches, physicians, physiotherapists and club managers to recognise and prevent mental health problems of their players.
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