“The BHA recognizes the responsibility to the workforce and the communities that it operates in and is committed to raising awareness around mental health.”
The death of Richard Woollacott at the hands of mental health problems all but springboards the issue further into our minds.
In 2016 Kieren Fallon, six times champion jockey and winner of 16 British Classics, retired caused by his struggle with mental health. His condition went back as far as 2007 when Fallon was one of several men prosecuted in a race-fixing trial that later collapsed.
And this is not the first case. In 2015 an unpublished survey of 122 jockeys stated that up to 49% had symptoms of clinical depression.
Sport psychologists state that jockeys are more vulnerable that other athletes to mental health problems due to the challenges faced in work- from keeping weight at a low level to the uncertainty of employment and the long hours and significant travel that is needed to be successful in the sport.
Also a significant factor is that horse racing is not a team sport, so there are often not team mates to discuss issues with.
Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders, and this is reflected among jockeys and other members of the sport.
“We need to put together a dedicated team or unit that would offer the psychological interventions that would help them, they need to be helped more systematically and consistently.” – Dr Costas Papageorgiou
Weight control for jockeys is also significantly damaging, with the chance that strict weight control can cause a multitude of eating disorders, which can in turn created physical health effects.
In Victoria, Australia a different survey was carried out, that shows that 75% of jockeys reported regularly skipping meals, 29% of jockeys used sauna-induced sweating, and 22% of jockeys used diuretics to aid in weight loss.
The number of jockeys that have eating disorders is not known, presumably due to the stigma associated with eating disorders.
Eating disorders such as bulimia can lead to mental and physical health problems, ranging from tooth decay, osteoporosis, heart arrhythmia, gastrointestinal damage, electrolyte abnormalities and kidney failure.
“Especially in our job you get patches when things just aren’t clicking, you can get down and it can be frustrating. We notice if someone isn’t as chatty and often use car journeys to pick each other up.”- Richard Johnson for Time to Change
Many jockeys have begun to support mental health charities, such as Richard Johnson and Aidan Coleman who got behind Time for Change’s campaign.
“We’re all self-employed but in a weird way we’re one big team and we do look out for each other. It’s often little things you notice which make you realise someone’s not at their strongest.”
This campaign promoted mental health among men, and aimed to improve attitudes towards mental health in the racing community, jockeys, racing grooms and supporters.
“We all know that we’re 30 minutes away from another fall so we never get too big for our boots and we’re good at being there for each other.”
Racing Welfare is a charity created by the Jockey Club to help support people in racing. They primarily help with support, creating opportunities to make life skills, and can create housing for the elderly. They also have a 24/7 helpline, manned by welfare officers. This helps support anyone that is going through mental health problems, or can be used to alert someone about another person who may be at risk.
“We’re not a team sport but in some ways we are, in the weighing room we have other jockeys and even the valets who are there to notice if someone’s having a hard time. We might have a quiet word and say, “I was feeling like that last week, I know how you’re feeling” and that can really help. Ups and downs are part of our job and everyone knows that.”
Overall it is clear to see that mental health in the sport is well support, with facilities and welfare officers available at any time. However, there is more that can be done. Through recent cases it is clear to see that mental health is still stigmatised, through the Media’s want to avoid talking about it.
Perhaps a rehabilitation house, much like Oaksey House or Jack Berry House, but for victims of mental health issues. It is clear that support for sufferers is avaliable, but not as readily as it should be.
Places to seek help:
Racing Welfare’s 24/7 Helpline:
Racing Welfare’s Website: