Understanding how independent mental health support can help female athletes

Women in sport face a lot of difficulties and not just when it comes to playing on the pitch.

Of course, playing football comes with its own difficulties just like it does when men play; things such as transfer stress, injuries, maintaining their positions, and criticisms or backlash amongst the public. On its own, life in the sporting spotlight can be incredibly hard to deal with.

On top of this however, female athletes face extra pressure and stress due to their biology. For instance, periods (and everything that comes along with them), gender stereotyping in a ‘man’s game’, pregnancy and maternity, as well as hormonal issues.

Gender stereotyping in sport needs to be tackled

Football is already referenced as a ‘man’s game’ and there’s still controversial opinions flooding the social media timelines about women in sport and women commentating on sport, despite the rise in positivity and support. In a recent 2023 survey, it was found that 82% of women working in football had experienced discrimination at work. This highlights that there’s still a long way to go before women are comfortable in the sport.

Due to the hardships of discrimination, having external occupational health support away from the club can be incredibly useful. It could help women to feel more welcome to discuss hardships with the comfort of knowing that it won’t have an impact on their position in the club as their coaches won’t know what’s being discussed- there’s no conflict of interest.

How to address the healthcare needs of female athletes

Women have a variation of health issues, such as periods, polycystic ovaries syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, fertility, pregnancy and more.  For instance, research has shown that 66% of women playing football professionally feel that their menstrual cycle symptoms affect their performance.

With these health obstacles potentially affecting their performances, extra support can be useful when it comes to navigating them and balancing them with a career in football. The support can highlight any necessary adjustments that should be made. It’s important as these issues can have an impact on how they perform on the pitch, and accessing exceptional wellbeing and healthcare services can really make a difference.

Being a woman means there’s a few extra hardships to face alongside the sport and no matter how much they might love the sport, it’s evident that there’s an extra level of support needed.

At UKIM Occupational Health and Wellbeing, we offer services such as social media guidance, psychological support and club transition support, as well as others. All of the support we offer aims to prevent and tackle poor mental wellbeing, and actually provide women in football with the necessary and positive coping mechanisms for any of their issues so that they feel their best on and off the pitch.