‘We want to break down the stigma’: racing bodies sign up to mental health charter

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  • The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and charity Racing Welfare have signed up to the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation.

    The decision was revealed on day two of Mental Health Awareness Week (16-22 May), organised by the Mental Health Foundation.

    The charter, launched in March 2015 by the government’s sport and recreation alliance, sets out how sport can tackle mental illness and the stigma surrounding it.

    Other sporting bodies that have already signed up include UK Athletics, Lawn Tennis Association, the FA, Rugby Football Union and the English Cricket Board.

    Last year, the BHA appointed a dedicated welfare development manager — Matt Mancini.

    He has been tasked with helping the organisation to meet the charter’s six core areas.

    These include adopting good mental health policies and practices; appointing ambassadors and role models; tackling discrimination on the grounds of mental health; and supporting a pan-sport platform to develop and share resources and best practice.

    Mr Mancini told H&H he is looking both within the BHA and at the wider racing industry to address mental health problems.

    “I think it is really important that people understand that it is normal,” he said.

    “Racing has a number of people that are specialists and can provide the care and support in times of need.”

    He added the BHA also does a lot of work with charities and support organisations, such as the National Association of Stable Staff and the Professional Jockeys Association.

    “Staff are the heartbeat of the industry. It is a tough job that is done by people who are passionate about it,” he told H&H.

    “It is only right that the services are there to support them.”

    There is already substantial support within the racing industry in terms of wellbeing and mental health.

    “We aim to educate those involved in racing, with all the unique challenges it entails, to be aware that support is available and that it is always better to come forward and speak to someone,” added Mr Mancini. “We want to break down the stigma that is attached to mental health and tackle it head on.”

    The likes of Racing Welfare, the Professional Jockeys Association (PJA) and the Injured Jockeys Fund (H&H’s charity of the year) all offer help.

    “We are all part of the same family and we work increasingly closely together,” Dr Jerry Hill, the BHA’s chief medical adviser told H&H.

    “We will approach it from a slightly different angle, but the common theme is supporting our sporting participants.”

    The BHA has numerous initiatives, education and research projects taking place.

    Among these are a recent review of its track-side care, a PhD cardiac health study and research into how it can actively help jockeys recover from concussion.

    One of its focuses is better nutrition and how to get the information to the jockeys.

    “There are issues associated with horseracing which can put unique strains on our participants, for example the requirement for jockeys and work riders to monitor and control their weight at all times,” added Dr Hill.

    “This can have an emotional and mental impact, and for this reason it is imperative that we provide the right support to our workforce.

    “Important work is under way on this front in the Jockey Nutrition and Welfare PhD. A priority of mine is to address these issues at source by educating our participants on how to care better for themselves and to consider themselves as athletes, rather than simply as horsemen.

    “I fully endorse the signing of the charter and any resultant work that can be done to provide further support to our industry’s mental health.”

    The BHA has also issued a mission statement around mental health: “British Horseracing aims to support its participants through a variety of welfare services and specialist facilities to enhance the health and wellbeing of those who help to make the sport what it is.

    “The BHA recognises the responsibility to the workforce and the communities that it operates in and is committed to raising awareness around mental health, both internally and amongst stakeholders.

    “We will work closely with partners to communicate the good work already going on in this area, lead and support the development of new innovative initiatives and take action across the six key areas of the charter.”

    Racing Welfare has events taking place all this week with a focus on mental health awareness. Meanwhile, the PJA has said it will shortly be opening its helpline to retired jockeys and will be including mental health and wellbeing a key element of its new jockey training strategy.

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