LONDON (REUTERS) - Referees could be driven to commit suicide because of the abuse they receive in stadiums and on social media, according to former English Premier League official Mark Halsey.
Saturation coverage of every major incident in top-flight games has put huge pressure on referees and he fears some could reach breaking point.
"The game is in the gutter. A top referee is under scrutiny as never before," Halsey, who once received vile abuse on Twitter, said in The Sun on Monday.
"While I am all for people being accountable, the ignorance of some of the criticism and the rise of social media, with its unmonitored vilification, makes it almost impossible to referee Premier League matches these days.
"There is no hiding place on the field and you have to be mentally tough. But it also follows you off the field more and more now and it can destroy you."
"In my view, given some of the episodes of recent seasons, it will not be long before a referee has a nervous breakdown.
"I also believe that if we do not do something to help referees with mental health and stress issues, then we could even get a suicide."
Germany has already seen an attempted suicide of a referee in 2011, when Babak Rafati was found in his hotel room having tried to take his own life before a match between Cologne and Mainz. He later admitted he had been suffering from depression.
Cancer survivor Halsey, 52, who retired at the end of last season, was the victim of abuse from fans after refereeing Liverpool's home match against Manchester United last September.
After sending off Liverpool's Jonjo Shelvey and awarding United a late penalty, he was targeted on social media.
"They were saying things like 'I hope your cancer comes back', 'I hope your wife dies of leukaemia and your daughter too' and 'If I had a bullet I would use it on you'."