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Irish Jockeys Association - Kieren has taken a huge step in seeking help

Published 05/07/2016

Jockey Kieren Fallon
Jockey Kieren Fallon

The Irish Jockeys Association stressed the need for vigilance in helping to combat depression in horseracing following the retirement of Kieren Fallon.

County Clare-born Fallon, 51, is seeking medical assistance in his homeland after he was diagnosed with acute depression.

Irish Turf Club chief medical officer Dr Adrian McGoldrick spoke on behalf of Fallon in announcing the end of his riding career, and said the six-times British champion jockey has had the illness for "the best part of three years", but that it had gone unnoticed when he was riding in England and in America.

McGoldrick also commissioned a survey last year which revealed nearly half of the jockeys riding in Ireland had symptoms of depression.

Andrew Coonan, secretary of the IJA, insists there is still more that can be done to help tackle such an emotive subject in racing.

He said: "This is a difficult phase in Kieren's life, but I am really pleased that he's been able to come out and make the first steps in confronting the issue.

"I don't think he will regard this as a sad day. There are obviously the regrets of walking away from an outstanding, glittering career, but he has taken a huge step forward in seeking help and support.

"It also makes us all reflect on the fact the issues of depression and mental health are significantly higher in racing than in the general population.

"That is something which is very much food for thought for all of us in the area of racing administration and welfare.

" It is good to talk, of course, but, more importantly, everyone in racing in Ireland needs to know that help is out there.

"There is no situation that cannot be dealt with, and no situation that cannot be discussed and alleviated.

"But w e can never be complacent. There is no structure in place that can't be improved upon, so we must continue to try to provide support to everyone in racing - riders, former riders, trainers and stable staff - who need it."

PJA chief executive Paul Struthers said: "When Kieren was at his best there was no-one else you would want on a horse you had backed. He is one of the very, very best jockeys I have seen in my relatively short time of 25 years, or close to it, in the sport.

"I wish him a speedy recovery from the issues he's facing. I know how highly the jockeys in Ireland think of Adrian McGoldrick, so he's got a very good man on his side."

Struthers urged jockeys suffering from problems associated with depression to come forward and take advantage of help offered by his organisation.

He added: "I think it says a lot of how far society, sport in general and specifically racing, has come in a short space of time, that he is able to be open about the cause of his retirement.

"Mark Enright was the first active jockey I was aware of to speak of his depression. That was a big step for racing and jockeys generally. The experience of other sports is certainly when one person talks about issues it prompts others to come forward.

"One of the reasons that I wanted to get support in place - and it took me longer than I wanted - is that I have suffered from depression before. Jockeys have to go through so much more than me, I've never been a professional sportsperson, with the unique demands of that and the make-up of the individual, the risks of injury and restricted diet.

"One in four in general society are likely to suffer from depression and from limited research that is likely to be higher in jockeys.

"We launched our own counselling helpline last summer, which goes beyond just that with one-to-one support and therapy after an initial referral. It can deal with various issues and has been really valuable.

"I know the Injured Jockeys Fund and Oaksey House at Lambourn have a sports psychiatrist there every Thursday for four hours. They are there for sports psychiatry, but can also provide counselling and onward referral for other issues.

"It's important we break down the stigma associated with depression and mental well-being, as it is so common - it's vital people feel comfortable in coming forward for help. People may have suffered in silence.

"We shouldn't view mental health and well-being as any different to a regular injury. It shouldn't have been brave of Kieren, but it is still viewed as brave and it will do other jockeys favours, I suspect, in that he has been open about it.

"That's what has happened in other sports.

"There is support out there, in the last month probably four jockeys have approached us for support. We have over 400 jockeys and with the lifestyle they lead there will be a decent number suffering from mild to more more serious mental health issues.

"Getting help is normal and we need to get that message across, and reinforce it - it's quite literally a phone call or text message away."

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