Stress, anxiety and depression a major issue in racing, British study finds

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The weekly workload of some people within horse racing is potentially unsustainable, according to a fresh British report which explores the mental health of the industry’s workforce.

“The concern is that extensive working hours, including overtime without pay, is now normalised, placing great psychological strain on those involved,” the authors of the report concluded.

The report, titled A Lifestyle rather than a Job, was produced as a result of research undertaken by a team at Liverpool John Moores University’s School of Sport and Exercise. It was commissioned by Racing Welfare, a registered charity supporting the workforce of British horse racing.

Its findings are based around detailed face-to-face interviews with 131 people who work within the industry, including jockeys, trainers, stud and stable staff and other stakeholders.

Its authors Dr Will McConn-Palfreyman, Dr Martin Littlewood and Dr Mark Nesti, examined the interaction between working patterns in horse racing and the mental health of the aligned workforce.

Their findings highlight some serious issues around mental health for some in the industry.

Those interviewed painted a picture of a “relentless” industry and, for many, this had intensified in recent years.

“Such a pace may be unsustainable psychologically for a number of sectors and individuals within the racing fraternity,” the trio wrote.

However, some good initiatives and ideas were already in place and these structures can be expanded to offset many of the current themes and concerns raised, they said.

Issues with stress, anxiety or depression were found to be commonplace. Almost 87% of interviewed jockeys said they were either currently experiencing such issues, or had done so in the last year. More than 70% of trainers, stable and stud staff reported similar issues.

The results of the interviews build a worrying picture of mental health in the racing industry.
The results of the interviews build a worrying picture of mental health in the racing industry.

Nearly one in 10 trainers admitted problems with alcohol use, as did 13% of jockeys.

The authors say mental health requires a long-term strategic approach to ensure all individuals working in racing are provided with the greatest capacity to enjoy and thrive through their work.

Its wide-ranging recommendations are broken down into each employment group.

The authors said their work highlighted the dedication that the racing workforce across the industry pursue for their sport.

“The concern, however, is that such pursuit may have some negative consequences in the long term, with individuals not engaging in the appropriate self-care.

“In relation to poor mental health, it is not simply long hours that are the issue but the flexibility of when such hours are delivered.”

They proposed more flexible working arrangements around how long, where, when and at what times employees work.

They said there should be mechanisms in place to foster innovation both in terms of transferring and adapting practices from other industries, as well as promoting internal collaboration, to develop bespoke solutions on work flexibility.

Stress arose for different reasons, depending upon the roles.

Jockeys, for example, talked about “financial uncertainty” as a key driver of work-related stress, as well as finding rides. They were worried about maintaining status and weight management.

Those with on-the-ground roles talked of their concerns around a lack of career progression, balancing personal commitments alongside work, a lack of control around holidays and time off, and feeling the need to look after the horses 24/7.

The authors say mental health requires a long-term strategic approach to ensure all individuals working in racing are provided with the greatest capacity to enjoy and thrive through their work.

“It is worth highlighting that the recommendations included in this report are not meant as a static roadmap to be followed,” the authors said.

“The aim, instead, is to encourage dialogue and debate around these themes to facilitate greater well-being in the entire British horseracing industry workforce.

The chief executive of Racing Welfare, Dawn Goodfellow, said the driver for the year-long study was to establish an objective picture of the mental health of people working in different sectors of the industry, not because we thought that racing necessarily had a problem with mental health.

“It is clear from the findings that there are issues to be addressed,” she says.

“The information outlined in the report offers guidance on the next steps, in order to make a tangible difference to the lives of participants from each of the different sectors.

“We recognise that among the challenges that racing faces, devising a programme that is sustainable for all participants is key to the health of the industry.

“Racing takes the mental health of its participants seriously and the level of engagement we have seen throughout this process is evidence of that.”

The full report can be read here

One thought on “Stress, anxiety and depression a major issue in racing, British study finds

  • May 16, 2019 at 8:46 am
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    It’s much the same in Australia, hence the need for organizations like the Behind the Barriers Foundation launched last year by Jason Petch to provide rapid, specialist support for racing industry participants suffering anxiety and depression.

    Reply

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