BHA Clerk of the Scales Robert Cuthbert (standing far right) and a team of BHA raceday staff and stable inspectors recently undertook Racing Welfare’s Mental Health First Aid course, read Robert’s account on the value of this training
A quarter of a century in but still keen to learn
This summer I will have worked for the Jockey Club and the BHA for 25 years; this is my third year as a Clerk of the Scales. Prior to this role, I worked as an Equine Welfare & Integrity Officer in the racecourse stables. It was an easy fit after leaving the army in 1994, having served with The King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery.
Most people who are keen to help others with mental health often have a strong reason or back-story for this willingness to lend support. I have military friends and colleagues within racing whose fear and anxieties have spurred me on to learn more.
A positive and rewarding experience
The two-day Mental Health First Aider’s training course I completed recently was undoubtedly one of the most positive and rewarding events courses I’ve ever attended. It was at times brutally frank, but also warm, encouraging and funny. Like everyone there, I now feel better equipped to engage with those that are struggling.
I think what struck me most about the course was just how surprised people were about how suddenly a seemingly ‘fine’ top flight jockey can unexpectedly begin to cry, or blurt out that they ‘just can’t do this anymore’.
In addition, the positive attitude of those on the course with me was so encouraging and extremely inspiring. The message was united and very clear: whatever your role, we care and we’ll help you.
Alongside jockeys in the front line
The Scales Team, as individuals, are often singled out as a point of contact by jockeys who are deeply unhappy with something: their career, relationships or more serious and specialised issues, like addictions and dependencies.
To some jockeys, we offer it all – distance from their colleagues, impartiality, complete discretion and seemingly older and wiser heads. To offer an ear and just that, to just offer to listen, without judgement, is probably 50 per cent. or maybe higher of what is need by those that are struggling. The training course has galvanised the caring part of the equation and indeed provided the missing bit. It’s given me the confidence and some simple skills that anyone can learn, which could really help in directing people who are suffering to experienced professionals.
Hopefully the start of something bigger
I’m happy to be a walking advert for the course and I’d love to see at least one mental health first aider within each department, more in larger teams. In stable offices, weighing rooms, tack rooms, jockeys canteens, there should be posters with photos of Mental Health First Aiders. If you’re struggling, speak to me, or her, or him – trainer, jockey or official. It should transcend any perceived boundaries and regulation.
If we can nail this at the BHA’s end, then, hopefully, the jockeys and trainers will get on board, too. Just talking about mental health, destroying its taboos and tackling its myths and stigmas, is one simple thing around which the sport can unite.
Read more about this week’s launch of Racing Welfare’s mental health research, to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week here.
Visit the Mental Health Foundation’s website here.