Mental health and wellbeing of jockeys

Ciara Losty, Giles Warrington, Adrian McGoldrick, Colm Murphy, Emma Burrows, SarahJane Cullen


Despite receiving much public attention in recent years, the mental health status of jockeys has not been established. This study investigated the incidence of common mental health disorders in jockeys. Amateur (n=74) and professional (n=42) jockeys completed an online anonymous questionnaire incorporating validated self-reported measurement tools to assess the prevalence of psychological distress, depression, anxiety, social phobia, perceived stress and self-esteem. Personal and lifestyle characteristics were also reported. Fifty four percent of jockeys were experiencing symptoms of at least one of general psychological distress, depression, general anxiety disorder or social anxiety. Professional jockeys displayed significantly greater mean scores on measures of psychological distress (p<0.01), depression (p<0.05), anxiety (p<0.05) and perceived stress (p<0.01). No difference was present in measures between professional flat and jump jockeys. Professional jockeys were classified as displaying symptoms of depression (mean score 20.29; 57.1% at or above threshold of 16) and perceived stress (mean score 20.24; 52.4% at or above threshold of 20). Current injury, social anxiety or high levels of perceived stress increased the likelihood of displaying depressive symptoms in the jockey sample. With a high prevalence of depression and perceived stress evident in professional jockeys, mental health support strategies should be implemented with specific focus on stress management and dealing with injury. Future research should further investigate factors that increase the susceptibility of jockeys to mental health disorders.


Weight category sports; Horse racing; Depression; Anxiety; Stress; Psychological health


Appaneal, R. N., Levine, B. R., Perna, F. M., & Roh, J. L. (2009). Measuring post injury depression among male and female competitive athletes. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 31, 60–76.

Bauman, N.J. (2016). The stigma of mental health in athletes: Are mental toughness and mental health seen as contradictory in elite sport? British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50(3), 135-136.

Beable, S., Fulcher, M., Lee, C. A., & Hamilton, B. (2017). SHARP - Sports mental Health Awareness Research Project: Prevalence and risk factors of depressive symptoms and life stress in elite athletes. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 2017, Epub ahead of print.

Caulfield, M. J., & Karageorghis, C. I. (2008) Psychological Effects of Rapid Weight Loss and Attitudes Towards Eating Among Professional Jockeys. Journal of Sports Sciences, 26, 877-883.

Cohen, S. (1988). Perceived stress in a probability sample of the United States, in The Claremont Symposium on Applied Social Psychology. The social psychology of health (pp. 31-67), S. Spacapan & S. Oskamp (Eds.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Connor, K. M., Davidson, J. R., Churchill, L. E., Sherwood, A., Foa, E., & Weisler, R. H. (2000). Psychometric properties of the Social Phobia Inventory (SPIN). British Journal of Psychiatry, 176, 379-386.

Cullen, S. J., O'Loughlin, G., McGoldrick, A., Smyth, B., May, G., & Warrington, G. D. (2015). Physiological demands of flat horse racing jockey's. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(11), 3060-6.

Dolan, E., O' Connor, H., McGoldrick, A., O'Loughlin, G., Lyons, D., & Warrington, D. (2011). Nutritional, Lifestyle and Weight Control Practices of Professional Jockeys. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29, 791-799.

Dolan, E., McGoldrick, A., Davenport, C., Kelleher, G., Byrne, B., Tormey, W., … Warrington, G. D. (2012). An altered hormonal profile and elevated rate of bone loss are associated with low bone mass in professional horse-racing jockeys. Journal of Bone and Mineral Metabolism, 30, 534-542.

Foskett, R. L., & Longstaff, F. (2017). The mental health of elite athletes in the United Kingdom. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Epub Ahead of Print.

Gorczynski, P. F., Coyle, M., Gibson, K. (2017). Depressive symptoms in high-performance athletes and non-athletes: a comparative meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 51, 1348-1354.

Gouttebarge, V., Kerkhoffs, G., & Lambert, M. (2016). Prevalence and determinants of symptoms of common mental disorders in retired professional Rugby Union players, European Journal of Sports Science, 16, 811–818.

Gulliver, A., Griffiths, K. M., Christensen, H. (2012). Barriers and facilitators to mental health help seeking for young elite Athletes: a qualitative study. BMC Psychiatry, 12, 157.

Gulliver, A., Griffiths, M. K., Mackinnonb, A., Batterham, P. J., & Stanimirovic, R. (2015). The mental health of Australian elite athletes. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 18, 255–261.

Kessler, R. C., Barker, P. R., Colpe, L. J., Epstein, J. F., Gfroerer, J. C., Hiripi, E., … Zaslavsky, A. M. (2003). Screening for serious mental illness in the general population. Archives of General Psychiatry, 60, 184–9.

Kontos, A. P., Deitrick, J., & Reynolds, E. (2016). Mental health implications and consequences following sport-related concussion. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50, 139-140.

Landolt, K., Maruff, P., Horan, B. Kingsley, M., Kinsella, G., O'Halloran, P. D., … Wright, B. J. (2017). Chronic work stress and decreased vagal tone impairs decision making and reaction time in jockeys. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 84, 151-15.

Main, L. C., Dawson, B., & Grove, J. R. (2009). Impact of training on changes in perceived stress and cytokine production. Research in Sports Medicine, 17, 121–32.

Mainwaring, L. M., Hutchison, M., Bisschop, S. M., Comper, P., & Richards, D. W. (2010). Emotional response to sport concussion compared to ACL injury. Brain Injury, 24, 589–597.

Mischoulon, D., Eddy, K. T., Keshaviah, A., Dinescu, D., Ross, S. L., Kass, A. E., … Herzog, D. B. (2011). Depression and eating disorders: treatment and course. Journal of Affective Disorders, 3, 470-7.

O'Connor, S., Warrington, G., McGoldrick, A., & Cullen, S. J. (2017). Epidemiology of injury in race-day jockey falls in Professional Flat and Jump horse racing in Ireland, 2011-2015. Journal of Athletic Training, In Press.

Putukian, M. (2017). The psychological response to injury in student athletes: a narrative review with a focus on mental health, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50, 145–148.

Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychology Measures, 1, 385-401.

Rice, S., Purcell, R., De Silva, S., Mawren, D., McGorry, P. D., & Parker, A. G. (2016). The Mental Health of Elite Athletes: A Narrative Systematic Review. Sports Medicine, 46(9), 1333–1353.

Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Schinke, R. J., Stambulova, N. B., Si, G., & Moore, Z. (2017). International society of sport psychology position stand: Athletes' mental health, performance, and development. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology.

Spitzer, R. L., Kroenke, K., Williams, J. B., & Lowe, B. (2006). A brief measure for assessing generalised anxiety disorder: the GAD-7. Archives of Internal Medicine, 166(10), 1092-7.

Warrington, G., Dolan, E., McGoldrick, A., McEvoy, J., Macmanus, C., Griffin, M., & Lyons, D. (2009). Chronic weight control impacts on physiological function and bone health in elite jockeys. Journal of Sports Sciences, 27, 543–550.

Wilson, G., Fraser, W. D., Sharma, A., Eubank, M., Drust, B., Morton, J. P., & Close, G. L. (2013). Markers of Bone Health, Renal Function, Liver Function, Anthropometry and Perception of Mood: A Comparison between Flat and National Hunt Jockeys. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 34, 453-459.

Wilson, G., Drust, B., Morton, J. P., & Close, G. L. (2014). Weight-making strategies in professional jockeys: implications for physical and mental health and well-being. Sports Medicine, 44, 785-796.


License URL: