Increasingly, Australian footballers have found a platform to speak openly about their mental health, helping to break down the stigma attached to their experiences.

Importantly, they have also increasingly utilised the opportunity to seek help privately.

During the 2018/19 season, 161 confidential counselling sessions were provided for PFA members through the PFA’s National Psychological Support Network.

The sessions provide advice for players who may be suffering from depression, performance or general anxiety, stress, addiction, relationship breakdown, grief and transition.

“Providing mental health education, support and equipping players with tools to deal with wellbeing issues remains an important responsibility for the PFA,” Head of Player Relations at the PFA, said.

“Ultimately the health and wellbeing of our players drives our work and we have had a strong focus on educating our players, ensuring they have an understanding of the challenges they may face as elite athletes.

“Importantly, players need to feel they have a network – whether publicly or privately – that they can connect with to speak about their concerns or wellbeing.”

In recent season, players from across the A-League have shared their personal experiences in the media through initiatives attached to the PFA, in an effort to break down barriers and help peers who may also require support.

In 2017, former Newcastle Jets and Sydney FC midfielder Stu Musialik bravely opened up about his battle with depression, following the loss of his father to suicide.

“At the time I had no idea what was going on. I was never diagnosed with depression, I just thought I was going through a tough time…. and I didn’t open up to anyone about how I was really feeling. 

“I just went into my shell and just battled through it and it probably ended up lasting five or six months. Without [my family], I don’t know whether I would have got through it.”

Last November, Melbourne City FC’s Rostyn Griffiths opened up about his struggles with anxiety and panic disorder following the passing of his grandfather.

“My first ever experience of anxiety or panic was a couple of years ago when my grandad died.”

Griffiths experienced a panic attack after playing for Perth Glory against City at AAMI Park.

“On the flight back home, it was a question of whether I should have gone to [my grandad’s] funeral. I chose to play that game…. [but] on the flight back, I started to feel all these sensations going up my arm, tingling and my heart, I honestly thought it was going to come through my chest.” 

Both Griffiths and Musalik spoke on a panel at July’s PFA Player Development Camp in Melbourne, sharing their experiences with the next generation of A-League and W-League players.

At the Camp, mental health was a core topic, with the curriculum designed by Busch and his Player Development team.

Michael Inglis, from the Mind Room, provided growth mindset and self-compassion workshops, to encourage positive mental health and insights into performance psychology.

“Elite sport culture places heavy training demands and a constant drive to improve performance, which only serve to heighten the risk of not speaking up about mental health,” Inglis said.

“And whilst there is not always a direct relationship between mental health and performance, they often overlap. This fight for perfectionism, gaining feedback on how to improve and feelings of not being good enough, affects esteem and therefore mental health. 

“When performances begin to deteriorate, it can accentuate mental health struggles further, thus beginning a vicious cycle.”

Former AFL footballer, Heath Black, shared his struggle with mental illness, which including bipolar, ADHD, depression and anxiety, as well as his 

Former Socceroo Ljubo Milcevic is another player to have shared his experience through the PFA after a two year period of depression.

“The isolation and the injuries that I suffered during those moments, definitely brought on depression. 

“When I hit the wall, I spent two years at home basically, none of my best friends saw me, got a response from me, my phone may as well have been thrown out because I wasn’t replying to anyone, I didn’t want to see anyone. Definitely soul searching.

Following his premature retirement from footballer due to a heart condition, former Sydney FC player Chris Naumoff also spoke about the mental toll his career-ending circumstance took.

“I didn’t really feel the full effects of it for quite a few months later once everything had sunken in and of course I still feel down at times about what happened and it’s only normal to do so. I know I’m not expecting to be 100 per cent fine and maybe that will never be the case.”

Former Brisbane Roar player Kofi Danning has also spoken up about the impact of being cut from a team.

“You felt left like you’re left out; you’re left alone and no one really cares about you. I don’t think it’s intention for you to feel like that, but it feels like that.”

Mental health support remains a critical component of the PFA’s Player Development Program and PFA members are encouraged to access the variety of wellbeing programs and services designed to provide critical support in times of need. These services also assist members in dealing with the demands of professional sport both on and off the pitch.

To access the PFA’s counselling or psychological services please contact your Player Development Manager or the Head of Player Relations.In addition, members can contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for crisis support 24 hours a day.

Confidential Counselling

PFA Members can access confidential counselling and psychological support services to assist in dealing with a variety of challenges they may be facing, including:

  • Addiction
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Relationship breakdown
  • Grief
  • Transition