Study published exploring the mental health of jockeys

Health Science
Pictured is Lewis King

Pictured is Lewis King

Researchers managed to capture data from 84 professional jockeys in Ireland, which represents over 50% of the professional jockey community

Research exploring the mental health of jockeys has identified that almost 80% jockeys met the threshold for a common mental disorder.

Common Mental Disorders among Irish Jockeys: Prevalence and Risk Factors was published in the The Physician and Sportsmedicine, a journal for primary care physicians in August 2020.

50% of jockeys studied

The largest scale study of its kind in Ireland examined over 50% of the professional jockey population. Specifically, prevalence rates of adverse alcohol use (61%), depression (35%), anxiety (27%) and psychological distress (19%) were observed. Risk factors for common mental disorders included burnout, career (dis)satisfaction, lower levels of social support and the contemplation of retirement.

The research team included Lewis King, Dr Ciara Losty and Dr SarahJane Cullen (WIT), Dr Siobhan O’Connor (DCU), Dr Adrian McGoldrick (IHRB), Dr Jennifer Pugh (IHRB), Dr Giles Warrington (University of Limerick), Dr Gary Woods (Queen’s University Belfast), and Professor Alan Nevill (University of Wolverhampton).

The study builds on research published in 2019 by Losty et al. (2019) which found that 57% of Irish professional jockeys met the threshold for depression. Moreover, jockeys who were injured were 46 times more likely to meet the threshold for depression than those who were not. The findings highlighted the need for further research in the area.

Jockey mental health PhD programme

Funding provided by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board allowed for such calls to be answered with the development of a PhD programme, conducted at Waterford Institute of Technology in conjunction with the University of Limerick, specifically examining jockey mental health.

Jockeys participate in a sport that is both physically and psychologically demanding. The sport is high risk, where severe injury is a serious possibility in every race. It is one of the only sports in the world where the competitor is followed by several ambulances. Jockeys are also required to compete at low riding weights, which fluctuate on a race by race basis dependent on the weight allocated to the horse they are riding. As a result, jockeys often employ rapid weight loss strategies on a daily basis to ensure they are able to compete. The sport is also an uncertain one for its athletes, in terms of career and financial uncertainty. These stressors, alongside many others, have led to research examining the mental health of jockeys.

Comparable with other athletes

King leads the project and has this to say about the recently published findings:

“This work sought to include a larger sample of jockeys, exploring not only prevalence data but also risk factors for common mental disorders among jockeys. We managed to capture data from 84 professional jockeys in Ireland, which represents over 50% of the professional jockey community. The study, published in The Physician and Sportsmedicine, highlights that in general, prevalence rate of common mental disorders are comparable to athletes from other sports. The risk factors we identified represent a potential method of screening jockeys throughout the season that may facilitate early identification and intervention. Further research is needed to explore wider aspects of jockey mental health”.

Dr Ciara Losty, a supervisor on the project and lecturer in Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology at WIT commented: “This research further highlights the importance of examining the mental health of jockeys. Lewis’ next study will begin to shed further light on jockey’s attitudes towards help-seeking for some of the issues we have seen in the most recent study. That data will prove invaluable in designing bespoke support programmes or structures for jockeys”.


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