Footballers are starting to delete their social media accounts, according to the Professional Football Association as it revealed a record number of players accessed its counselling service last year.

The PFA said that 643 players turned to its therapy provision in 2019, a rise of almost 50% on the previous year.

The association has a nationwide network of more than 200 counsellors, who are all BACP members, as well as a 24-hour counselling telephone service.

In 2018, 438 members accessed their service, compared to 403 in 2017 and 160 in 2016.

Michael Bennett, the PFA’s head of welfare and a BACP member, said more awareness and a readiness to talk about mental health was part of the reason for the rise.

He told BBC Sport: "Issues might include a bereavement in the family, or living away from family, or long-term injury or not being in your manager's plans, or not earning the money you used to.

"All this stuff can impact individuals and lead to issues. Gambling is also having a big impact on people because it's so easy to access these days."

Social media

Michael added: “I've spoken to players who've deleted their accounts. That's just because of the barrage they get.

“You think about it, some of these players have 50, 60, 100,000 followers, and if you're getting negative feedback from a large proportion of those individuals, it's going to affect you.”

Our Public Perception Survey with YouGov last year found that 40 per cent of social media users in the UK say their mental health has been negatively affected by the online platforms. Only 12 per cent said social media had a positive impact on their mental wellbeing.

Gary Bloom is a former football commentator and now psychotherapist, who is also a BACP member. He works with Oxford United, which hosted a football psychotherapy conference at their Kassam Stadium home on Wednesday.

Changing attitudes

He told the conference: “The big sportswear manufacturers will often set a certain number of followers on social media before they give players certain deals, so a lot of players are chasing those margins.

“At the same time those social keyboard warriors turn up and complain, so what do you want to do? It's craving something that is poisoning you.”

Gary added: “Cricket and rugby are way in advance of football. Football is still in the Neanderthal age at times, you would think in 2020 some of these issues would be addressed.

“The majority of the people at the conference are from academies so that gives me hope that in the next 10-15 years attitudes will change.

"But I'm counselling and a psychotherapist to many elite footballers that tell me that problems with bullying, homophobia and racism occur as much today as they ever have done.

"There is a huge amount of work to do and thankfully, there will be more and more people like me embedded in football clubs and we can normalise those coffee machine chats and get away from the stigma of having a psychotherapist in clubs means there is something wrong."

To find a counsellor or psychotherapist who can help visit our Therapist directory.