Study of retired jockeys highlights the importance of mental health support
Thursday, 9 January 2020
A study of retired jockeys published in late 2019 has highlighted the importance of increased mental health support for riders.
As part of The Jockey Study , funded by the Racing Foundation, this paper was co-authored by Oxford University’s Botnar Research Centre and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and found that retired jockeys are over 2.5 times as likely to suffer from anxiety or depression, as well as being over six times as likely to suffer from osteoporosis and/or osteoarthritis compared to the general population. (Full findings are available here>.)
Plans to increase mental health support for riders were announced yesterday following a successful joint bid to the Racing Foundation by the Jockeys Education and Training Scheme (JETS), Professional Jockeys Association (PJA) and Injured Jockeys Fund (IJF). A new cross-industry working group for mental health comprised of the PJA, IJF and BHA will also be formed in 2020.
There is significant ongoing work to improve the strength, fitness and physical wellbeing of riders. These include the provision of nutritional advice and support through Liverpool John Moores University and the PJA nutrition team, access to strength and conditioning facilities and physiotherapists through the IJF and ongoing research projects into spinal injury, concussion and bone health to better understand the physical impact of a riding career.
Dr Jerry Hill, Chief Medical Adviser of the BHA, said:
“There have been considerable efforts in recent years to improve both the mental and physical wellbeing of riders, and the findings of the report published today both validates that work and reminds us we should always be striving to do more.
The efforts of the PJA, JETS and the IJF has over a number of years created a mental health support network which is as comprehensive as in any racing jurisdiction, and the news of increased funding from the Racing Foundation for further work is extremely positive.
There have also been considerable cross-industry efforts to improve the nutrition, strength and training of riders and the situation now is unrecognisable in terms of how jockeys are treated and are treating themselves as elite athletes.
The important work of the PJA, IJF, Liverpool John Moores University and others across racing will ensure we continue to improve in this area and support our riders to be stronger, fitter and healthier than ever before.”
Dr Julia Newton, Principal Investigator, University of Oxford, said:
“Understanding the impact of a career in professional racing later in life is key to developing interventions and support for new and current jockeys. We now understand that bone health in jockeys is negatively affected throughout their careers, both as newly licensed jockeys and in retirement.
The increased frequency of painful joint arthritis in retirement will help further inform how the racing industry can reduce and manage injury during jockey careers. The findings on mental health add to the increasing evidence in this area which is already being addressed by further work supported by the Racing Foundation and the racing industry.”
Existing mental health support
The PJA, together with the JETS and the IJF and with support from the Racing Foundation, has been working for a number of years to improve the provision of mental health education, training and support for riders.
Some of the initiatives and support services on offer currently include:
- Mental resilience training
- Mental health training through leading charity Sporting Chance
- Free access to qualified sports psychologists
- Assistance with stays in rehabilitation facilities when necessary
- Confidential 24-hour helpline
- A range of talking therapies
- Jockey Matters films to promote and highlight support available and increase awareness
With the result that over 100 riders have received support paid for by the PJA. This work has made a significant difference and reflects the support offered by player bodies in sports such as cricket, rugby and football.
Further research on the mental health of all racing industry participants which has been funded by the Racing Foundation and led by Racing Welfare was completed last year. The findings and recommendations are currently being discussed by industry stakeholders to ensure current mental health provision and support services are targeted and new services are implemented for everyone who works in British racing.
Efforts to increase physical health and wellbeing amongst riders
Considerable cross-industry efforts have been ongoing for several years to ensure jockeys are treated as elite athletes with the lifestyles, support, education and fitness to match.
Recent examples of some of the ongoing work in this area include:
- Research projects into spinal injury, concussion and bone health
- Nutrition advice and support available through Liverpool John Moores University and PJA nutrition team
- Increased provision of physiotherapists at all fixtures
- Strength and conditioning training and provision through the Injured Jockeys Fund
- Weighing room nutrition and wellbeing education campaign
This work is in part motivated by a desire to ensure the historical lifestyle choices of riders are not repeated and to minimize the risk of current riders facing similar health issues in later life by taking a preventative, proactive approach.