At the end of December 2016 I did a blog post called “Tomorrow’s World”, a prediction of where Equine Health & Safety may be heading in the following 12 months. As you might expect my prediction success was mixed; I didn’t see any inflatable cross country fences at Badminton this month and bizarrely Body Protector manufacturers still haven’t worked out that men and women aren’t the same shape and continue to make them in a one design fits all kind of way.
One area that I definitely got correct was that mental health was going to be the subject du jour over the coming months and years. Not just for the equine industry but the larger working environment has belatedly been tackling this weighty subject. It’s not that mental health has just become apparent, we’ve been aware of its importance and its effect on human wellbeing for a number of years, it’s that we, as an industry (that of the thoroughbred industry), have only just begun to get our heads around how to tackle it.
Every week I seem to get some reference or query made by my clients on mental health issues, from a new employee who has flagged up a mental health problem on their employee medical questionnaire to all the members of a team who are having to cope with a major event that is having a knock on affect to all of their wellbeing.
Last year, prompted by clients’ queries about what they should be doing to tackle mental health issues in the workplace, it occurred to me that several organisations within racing had made baby steps. The British Horseracing Industry (BHA) had signed the Sporting Mental Health charter, but nobody was actually clear what that meant? The National Trainer’s Federation had, for quite some time, had various policies on stress, alcoholism, bullying & harassment etc but they were quite employment law orientated. Racing Welfare were streets ahead and were already aware of the problem but there was little information to give concrete evidence of what the scale of the problem was; were we more or less at risk in this industry? I was giving medical questionnaires and had given some policies on key subjects to my clients but I was still not really sure where I was meant to be going with this.
What was clear was that there was no joined up thinking here; we weren’t all pulling in the same direction. We had no idea of the extent of the issue so our aims weren’t fact led. We had no goals so we had no idea whether we were achieving them. After a few chats with various professional bodies I was put in touch with a member of the BHA who had already made some steps towards pulling all of the aspects together and was invited to a mental health workshop at the start of 2018 at BHA head quarters along with several heads of the thoroughbred industry’s organisations.
This, I thought, was a major step forward, we could get all the big hitters together around a table, define a policy, organise some research, pinpoint goals and thrash out some structure about how to move forward. I have to say I was quite disappointed by the outcome. We did hear that there was some research already underway to find the extent of the problem, but that the results were not going to be collated until 2019. I understand that it’s important to not put the cart before the horse but surely there were some things that we could be doing in the meantime; there’s enough generic information out there? We heard about the mental health awareness week that Racing Welfare were very much already planning to push etc but the end of the meeting saw that we had achieved very little. No agreement on how to move forward, no structure or goals about what we should all be trying to achieve. No overriding policy. Having worked with the British Equine Veterinary Association on a similar policy (regarding H&S culture amongst equine vets) I was aware of how much you can achieve in a small space of time with good leadership, funding and time management. I was so disappointed that I left feeling utterly depressed, which considering it was on the subject of mental health was an irony that was not lost on me!
Several months on and we are in the throes of mental health awareness week. Racing Welfare have really moved forward with their plans and are executing it with great aplomb. A video has been put together focussing on the subject and I can see this is only going to get bigger and bigger, year on year. Racing Welfare have also put a half day mental health first aid course on in our area that I’ve signed up for and encouraged my clients to take advantage of. What does slightly baffle me is that this should be a Racing Welfare led week; should this not be a racing industry led initiative? Why are the BHA not leading on this?
There is still no clear guidance for employers on what they should be doing. Should all yards have somebody trained in mental health first aid as they would for a normal first aider? Should each employer have a mental health policy or champion in their yard? Should we not have posters issued around employer’s premises? Could there not be a wish list of things employers aiming for best practice should have or aim for? If we could start making some headway on the subject then it would be easier to build on that when the results of the research comes in next year.
I’m a huge supporter of the great work Racing Welfare do and I’m all too aware of what an advantage it is to have them working for our industry and any increase in awareness is a good thing, but this laissez faire attitude of the BHA needs to change. They should not be following on from other people’s forward moves they should be leading the way. So come on BHA, start defining policy, stop letting other’s define it for you?!