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How the horseracing industry is working to save lives through mental health support

This article comes fresh off the back of Racing Welfare’s Mental Health Awareness Week campaign, which gained support from stakeholders across the industry and led to several open conversations about mental health and the importance of looking after our own, and each other’s wellbeing.

With one in four people affected, mental health awareness must not be confined to one week in the year – it is a concept we need to embrace and embed into our working culture 365 days of the year. Racing Welfare is working hard to achieve this through its programme of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England accredited training courses.

The charity runs heavily subsidised Mental Health First Aid and Mental Health Awareness courses up and down the country, both online and in-person. Usually priced at £300 for the two-day first aid training, and £125 for the half-day awareness course, those working in the racing and breeding industries can book for just £80 and £30 respectively.

Courses are heavily subsidised thanks to the fundraising efforts of Simon Jones. Simon tragically lost his son Tim to suicide in 2019, at the age of just 17. Tim was a popular member of the horseracing community and a member of the team at Micky Hammond’s training yard in Middleham, North Yorkshire. Since the tragedy, Simon has taken on various fundraising challenges to support Racing Welfare’s Mental Health First Aid courses, raising more than £25,000 to date.

As I work through the third anniversary of my son, Tim, taking his own life it reinforces why trained mental health first aiders are so important in the workplace. We’ve trained over 500 first aiders so far, but as we know there is more to do. My marathon challenge builds on the fundraising done since Tim’s death and will fund access to more training places. So far, I’ve covered over 1,000 miles in training, burnt 140,000 calories, taken over 3.6million steps - and I’m only halfway there!

Simon Jones

Racing Welfare’s vision is to have a Mental Health First Aider in every workplace in the horseracing industry. A Mental Health First Aider is trained to recognise the early warning signs and symptoms of a person struggling with their mental health. The training also helps individuals build confidence to start up a conversation, offer support and, if appropriate, signpost to professional help.

I completed the course in Middleham over two years ago. I found the training very informative and helpful, enabling me to identify when work colleagues are acting differently and how to approach and ask the right questions or just to listen so they feel reassured and at ease. I also learnt to always let new and existing work colleagues know I am always here if they feel they want to speak about anything, however big or small, and that what they say remains confidential. We have a policy at work that we check in on everyone every day just to ask if they are ok. If they have any worries we encourage them to come and talk about it.

Hayley Clements, Secretary at Micky Hammond Racing, completed Racing Welfare’s Mental Health First Aid course in the months after Tim’s death

But it’s not only those affected by tragedy that have recognised the importance of mental health first aid training. Speaking to Racing TV’s Gordon Brown during Mental Health Awareness Week Kinross-based trainer Lucinda Russell said:

I didn’t really understand mental health - it wasn’t something I was aware of.  It was only when I went on Racing Welfare’s Mental Health First Aid course that it highlighted to me how easy it is for mental health to affect people. How insular it becomes, and how mental health problems can stem from anything. It really is about trying to encourage people to share the issues they are facing, and others learning to be able to spot an issue. On the course they teach you the signs and how you can try to pick up on them. The Mental Health First Aid course really has changed my view of mental health in racing. If you had someone in every yard that was able to help with mental health that would really help the whole industry.

This just leaves one final question: would you know how to spot the signs that someone is struggling with their mental health?

Find out more and book Racing Welfare’s mental health training courses here.

Support Simon Jones on his epic seven marathon challenge and help support mental health across the horseracing industry at: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/simon-jones-marathon-challenge