Mental health issues hit 62% of ex-rugby pros
The true scale of rugby's mental health crisis can be exposed today as a shocking revelation shows that 62% of retired players have suffered problems since leaving the professional game.
The statistics, compiled by the English Rugby Players' Association (the English players' trade union), were described as "a major issue" by the head of the international players' body, while a Labour MP has written to the British government demanding it does more to help retired professionals.
The RPA has called on others in the sport to increase their backing for former players after its survey revealed the majority of retired professionals had struggled.
The key findings from its research, based on about 200 retired players, 46% of whom were internationals and 77% of whom either played 100 club matches or were internationals, included: 62% experienced a mental health issue;
52% did not feel in control of their lives two years after they retired;
Almost 5% had financial difficulties in the first five years; and
46% were unhappy with their preparation for life after sport. Financial concerns were found to be the biggest contributory factor to mental health difficulties - which The Daily Telegraph understands were classified as ranging from panic attacks to suicidal thoughts. Former players were about three times more likely than other people to suffer illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
The findings were greeted with dismay by Omar Hassanein, CE of the International Rugby Players' Association.
"That 62% figure is very alarming," he said. "That is almost two in three players suffering mental health issues. If that is not a major issue that requires focus then I do not know what is.
"There is no point in looking at that figure and simply saying it is alarming. As the game grows, and the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France is going to be the most lucrative [World Cup in history], no doubt, then the game needs to find a way to look after the personal side of the athletes, otherwise it is only going to get worse."
Mental health issues have been a growing concern for rugby union. A number of high-profile former players have revealed their struggles both while they played and since leaving the sport.
Jonny Wilkinson has spoken about his battle to overcome anxiety during his career, and Joe Marler this year retired from England duty because of anxiety caused by being away from his family. Danny Cipriani, France centre Mathieu Bastareaud and Scotland forward Fraser Brown are among those who have also discussed their mental health issues.
Richard Bryan, RPA rugby director, said that he was not shocked.
Rugby has a number of structures in place to support players. The RPA has a player development programme, which is funded by the Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby, while the association has run the "Lift the Weight" campaign to highlight how mental health issues affect rugby players during all stages of their careers...