The reality of mental health issues faced by high-performance sports people hit home after Mr. Glen Boss told his confronting story during an illuminating session seven of the business programme titled “The Mind” at the 39th Asian Racing Conference on 16 February in Melbourne.
Mr. Boss, who won three successive Melbourne Cups on Makybe Diva, spoke of an attempt to take his own life during the panel discussion which followed presentations by Ms. Matti Clements, Acting Director, Australian Institute of Sport, and Ms. Lisa Hancock, Chief Executive, Injured Jockeys Fund (UK).
Mr. Andrew Harding, Secretary General, Asian Racing Federation and Executive Director, Racing, The Hong Kong Jockey Club, chaired the session and fittingly set the tone when he described the pressure and intensity of the horse racing arena.
“The pressure is felt by all but none more so than the jockey who carries the expectations of the owner, trainer and punters, and who knows that - in a split second - something could happen to alter their lives or those of others,” Mr. Harding said.
No-one was left in any doubt of that after Mr. Boss spoke: “I have a PhD in what not to do. I never put my hand up looking for help. I’d go to the races with my internals on fire, my brain snapping. I was falling apart but I was brought up in an era where you didn’t ask for help, didn’t show any sign of weakness.
“The pressure in racing is relentless. I was in such a dark place, I tried to take my own life,” said Mr. Boss, who now readily speaks on the subject and urges young jockeys to seek help on mental health issues.
Keynote speaker Mr. Jeff Kennett AC, Founder, Beyond Blue and former Premier of Victoria, also stressed the need to prepare people for their lives after a sporting career.
“Sport has a responsibility to look after those people who, given the focus on their sporting careers, don’t have the education or the contacts to establish a meaningful life post-career. I would ask all organisations: ‘what are you doing to prepare your people for life in two, five or ten years’ time’,” said Mr. Kennett, who was also formerly President of the Hawthorn Football Club.
Ms. Clements told the conference that mental health and well-being issues are now well acknowledged across the wider sporting world.
“Sport has come a long way in assessing mental health strategies and our (Australian Institute of Sport) program launched in December last year recognises that well-being is fundamental to sustainable high performance. Win well is our call. Not everyone will win, of course, but we want every individual to leave our system believing they are better off.
“We commit to the holistic development of our athletes and our staff. High performance sport is certainly not immune to mental health issues,” she said.
Ms. Clements made several key observations about improving mental health literacy, implementing policy and procedures and embedding well-being and mental health into the culture of your organisation.
Ms. Hancock said that both general and mental well-being were important in the Fund’s vision to improve the lives of injured jockeys and their families.
“Young jockeys are being encouraged to open up and think about their mental well-being while we are encouraging people to recognise when support might be needed,” said Ms. Hancock.
Mr. Harding summarised the session’s key takeaways, saying, “We must continue to remove the mental health stigma; provide access to services, improve those services and make them lifelong and recognise the issues cannot be compartmentalised.”