The results of the inventory of men’s elite football clubs in Sweden initiated by Swedish Professional Football Leagues in collaboration with the Karolinska Institutet (KI) and the Center for Psychiatry Research are official. The resultats says that elite football, just like society at large, has development potential in these matters. In comparison with other studies, however, it can be stated that the elite football results are in many parts better compared to the normal population.

In recent years, Swedish Professional Football Leagues has directed a focus on work with mental health.
“When several brave stories about mental illness from elite players appeared in the public space, we chose to launch a comprehensive survey of mental health in elite football”, says Beatrice Clarke, sustainability manager at Swedish Professional Football Leagues.

The study took place from the spring of 2021 to the middle of 2022. The study, which was carried out via web surveys and in-depth interviews, is an overview of all players, managers and other personnel in the 32 clubs of Allsvenskan and Superettan, from academy to senior level. KI has studied the mental health and risk behaviors of elite football players. The results shows, among other things, that one in four coaches shows symptoms of depression.

Examples from the survey

27% of the coaches showed symptoms of depression
23% of junior players showed symptoms of depression
18% of senior players showed symptoms of depression

23% of the coaches showed anxiety symptoms
17% of junior players showed anxiety symptoms
14% of senior players showed anxiety symptoms

9% of senior players showed fatigue symptoms
8% of the junior players showed symptoms of exhaustion

The researchers’ proposals for improvement measures revolve around two questions. On the one hand, policy knowledge is low, and on the other hand educational initiatives need to be carried out. The policy work and educations has already been started by Swedish Professional Football Leagues.

“We note that even if men’s elite football in Sweden in many cases shows better results than the rest of society, there is always potential for improvement. We don’t want anyone to feel bad in their everyday life. Right now we are building a central policy together with experts that clubs can use in their everyday life. The policy aims to make all clubs equipped for questions about mental health and this is done through annual knowledge-raising initiatives aimed at employees within the clubs. The policy also contains roles and responsibilities, as well as an action plan in the event of detection of mental illness”, says Beatrice Clarke.

For 2023, Swedish Professional Football Leagues has set concrete goals. All clubs must know that a common policy exists, where it can be found, what support is available and they must know the common action plan in case of mental illness. In addition, a course is to be completed during the year which is aimed at coaches and managers in the clubs, where the focus is mainly on providing knowledge about mental health and illness as well as tools to strengthen one’s well-being and to manage one’s mood when it fails. The aim is to work preventively to strengthen all players, and in the long term also to strengthen reactive efforts for those who need them.

“We frame our commitment, set concrete goals and follow up on these in order to be able to measure the effects of our efforts in the long term. Therefore, we choose to start with policy work and knowledge-raising initiatives first. It is also what is most requested by coaches and players”, says Beatrice Clarke.

Note that KI’s report is released in two parts. The first part dealing with gambling for money was presented before Christmas and today the second part which concerns mental health is presented.