Teresa Enke: It can happen to anyone

2 Aug 2021
  • FIFA’s #ReachOut campaign gets underway

  • Interview with Teresa Enke, wife of Robert Enke, who took his own life in 2009

  • Enke: “Coronavirus poses a particular threat to mental health”

One of the most terrible tragedies in the history of German football took place on 10 November 2009, when, not far from his home, goalkeeper Robert Enke was hit by a train.

Only later did it become apparent that the 32-year-old Germany international, capped eight times for his country, had undergone several rounds of psychiatric treatment for depression since 2003. In his suicide note, Enke, who played for Borussia Monchengladbach, Benfica, Barcelona and Fenerbahce during his career, asked his family and doctors to forgive him.

"We are stunned and full of sadness. Robert Enke was a wonderful human being who had to wrestle with tough challenges," said then-DFB President Theo Zwanziger. National team general manager Oliver Bierhoff added: "We’re all shocked; we’re lost for words."

"I am infinitely sad," said German football legend Franz Beckenbauer as he sought to find the right words. "When you receive news like this, all other problems pale into insignificance."

CARDIFF, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 01: Germany goal keeper Robert Enke in action during the FIFA 2010 World Cup Qualifier match between Wales and Germany at the Millennium Stadium on April 1, 2009 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Robert’s wife Teresa Enke, who set up the Robert Enke Foundation in 2010, told FIFA that awareness around mental health conditions has greatly improved, since the tragedy. "There is scientific proof that all my efforts have achieved something since my husband’s suicide in 2009. The acceptance of this illness is there. The team now includes psychologists and psychiatrists, and psychological training is offered to young athletes involved in competitive sport," she explained.

"I think that’s great, and I think Robbie will be proud as he looks down from up there – proud of what has been achieved, not just by the Robert Enke Foundation but in general. People are addressing the issue and finally acknowledging just how important mental health is. And yes, it can happen to anyone."

Today (2 August), FIFA launches #ReachOut, a campaign designed to raise awareness about mental health conditions, to encourage those affected to seek help where they need it and motivate everyone to look after their emotional wellbeing.

FIFA is enlisting the help of many current and former footballers to shine a much-needed spotlight on mental health issues. "With this campaign, we can increase the public’s awareness of psychological problems and encourage those who are struggling to have what could be a life-saving conversation. We are also committed to using football as a force for good in society, in keeping with the FIFA Vision 2020–2023. I would like to thank all of the players and Mrs Enke for their contributions to this important initiative," said FIFA President Gianni Infantino at the launch of the campaign on 2 August 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic is making it even more challenging for people to maintain a healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly, eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep and keeping in contact with friends and family.


"Coronavirus poses a particular threat to mental health, because everyone is so isolated," warned Enke. "The virus is having a particularly profound impact on society. I have said several times that one of the positives of coronavirus is that it has made people more aware of mental illness – but that really is the only positive. People have been confronted with an unprecedented challenge as well as isolation and regulations outside their control which mean they haven’t even been able to decide for themselves whether or not to go out late at night, for example.

"If you notice that you might be struggling, it’s so important to open up to someone. If you notice that a good friend has psychological issues, I would advise them to get help. Depression is treatable if it hasn’t yet taken hold completely.

“The role of a good friend or partner is to be by someone’s side and empathise with them. Sometimes it is even as simple as sitting and listening to them.

"Depression is an illness, not a weakness. If that acceptance is there, then the person struggling feels they can open up about it. If I have cancer or a knee operation, I don’t have to worry about talking to someone about it because they instantly understand and can grasp the situation, but with depression it’s different.

"I believe that athletes can and have to be able to deal with pressure. They only need to seek help when that pressure becomes too great, or if they become ill. Every job comes with pressure, of course, but if you notice that you can’t cope with that pressure as easily as you did before, then it’s vital to make sure you have people around you who can share the load and stand alongside you."

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Befrienders Worldwide Befrienders Worldwide provides help and support to those in distress or suicidal, around the world. Visit https://www.befrienders.org/ and https://www.befrienders.org/other-helpline-organisations to find support in your country. Please note, while every effort is made to ensure information is accurate, FIFA is not responsible for the content of external websites. If you are in immediate danger, please call your local emergency services.