Print this page

Professional Athlete Evaluation

Comprehensive program assists professional athletes with retirement challenges

As many as 15% of retired professional football players experience moderate to severe depression, according to a 2006 University of Michigan survey of 1,600 members of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA). Most players reporting depression symptoms do not seek professional help, primarily due to a lack of understanding of the medical nature of depression, a lack of awareness of treatment options, and concerns that help-seeking may be seen as a weakness.

Furthermore, adjusting to retirement from playing football presents players with unique challenges and stresses, including loss of identity and visibility, changes in finances, and facing decisions around a new and very different phase of life. These pressures can in turn lead to sleep disturbances, depression, marital conflicts, anxiety, and substance abuse. All of these factors may contribute to complex mood states that demand detailed, multidisciplinary assessments that consider the many unique stressors of participation in professional football.

To address these challenges, the U-M Depression Center and Department of Psychiatry, in partnership with the NFLPA, launched the Professional Athlete Evaluation Program, an interdisciplinary consultation program to help retired NFL players effectively manage the mood and behavioral disruptions often associated with leaving the game and making the successful transition to retirement from the NFL. Consultation through the program includes a thorough mood and behavioral evaluation for each player and a personalized treatment plan with recommendations for follow-up care that incorporate the past and current lifestyle of the player and his family.

Players complete a pre-visit phone call with a program psychiatrist to review their medical history and prepare them for an onsite evaluation at the Depression Center-Ambulatory Psychiatry Facility in Ann Arbor. At the evaluation visit, players meet with program staff (including specialty psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, and social workers), complete baseline measures through the U-M clinical informatics system for self-assessment of symptoms (M-Strides), and participate in a lifestyle assessment and planning for post-visit monitoring. After the visit, players receive a comprehensive report of findings and treatment recommendations.

Over the next 12 months, program staff coordinate follow-up care between U-M specialists and the players’ local physicians, other care providers, and family members, and, if needed, will help players establish a regular source of mental health care in their communities. Players continue to complete self-report measures through M-Strides to monitor their symptoms and progress, which program staff review during monthly phone consultations with players, enabling data-based adjustments to treatment plans. These plans are then coordinated with the player’s primary and local providers to ensure a full continuum of follow-up.

The emerging understanding of the needs of retired football players points to the importance of a comprehensive assessment such as this, as well as a personalized follow up management program. The faculty and staff of the U-M Depression Center Professional Athlete Evaluation Program and the NFLPA are proud to offer these services and welcome inquiries from former NFL players and their families.

To learn more: