Former jockeys speak of racing's effect on their mental health in bid to get others to open up

Former jockeys have opened up about the effect of horse racing on their mental health - and how it almost cost them their lives.

It follows the death of Liam Treadwell, who in 2020 was found dead at home after taking a cocktail of strong drugs.

His death was 11 years after one of the most memorable races in the Grand National's history, where the then 23-year-old rode the 100/1 outsider Mon Mome to victory at Aintree in 2009.

But, at Liam's inquest the coroner said beneath his public success was a history of anxiety and depression.

Now, two former jockeys hope by sharing their stories it will encourage others who are struggling to seek help.

Speaking of Liam's death, Harry Teal says: "It was horrible. We all felt it the weighing room was quite cold and very dull.

"Everyone is too young to go that way and it shouldn't happen. We've got to try and stop it as best we can."

Harry Teal speaks from the heart on mental health matters. As a former jockey the 25-year-old knows all about the highs and lows of being in the saddle.

He says: "When it was good it was amazing. But unfortunately when it was bad it was very bad.

"I mean the weight played a massive part as well as the long driving lonely hours it was very hard."

Harry Teal has bravely opened up about his mental health and his split second decision not to take his own life.

The life of a jockey is not just about what happens out on track.

Despite the early starts, long days, constant dieting and hours of travelling around the country, for the vast majority races end in defeat.

For Harry it all came to a head on a drive home.

"It was two miles straight and I knew at the end of it was a T junction with a brick wall the other side and I just thought I could end all troubles and everything here," he says.

"It's just a thought that was going through my mind. I was about 400 yards away from the wall and looked down and I was doing 140mph.

"In that split second I slammed on the brakes and luckily I did."

Harry bravely talks about his battles with mental health.

But he is not alone and a study in 2019 by Liverpool John Moore's University and the charity Racing Welfare found that 87% of jockey's surveyed had experienced stress, anxiety or depression.

Despite his love for the sport Mitch Godwin took a 315 day break from racing after the combined pressure from his professional and personal life became too much.

He says: "It was difficult I felt like I was completely on my own. Not enough hours to sleep, not enough food.

"No one wants to show that they are not strong enough and that's when it never goes away unfortunately.

"I didn't feel good enough I didn't want to be shown anywhere, I didn't want to get out of bed. I just wanted to stay in the house and go no where and do nothing."

Mitch Godwin took a 315 day break from racing after the combined pressure from his professional and personal life became too much.

Eventually Mitch opened up to his dad, who got him help through the Professional Jockey's Association and Injured Jockey's Fund.

"It was the best thing I ever did and I wish I did it earlier," he says.

"But the thing was admitting it to myself, that was the hardest part. Once I spoke to someone and they went and got me help that's when the big weight came off my shoulders really."

Simon Jones' son Tim, a talented race horse and event rider, took his own life at the age of 17.

Being back at Aintree brings up a mix of emotions, Tim loved nothing more than family days out to the Grand National.

Simon says: "It's a bit mixed if I'm to be honest. I first came here with Tim in 2018.

"Mad passionate about his jump racing so it was a bit of a treat. Came back the following year with the family and of course that was the last day out we had as a family."

"Well it was a complete shock and nobody noticed anything that was significant."

Tim and his family last visited Aintree in 2019.

Simon is now planning on run seven marathons in seven cities to raise money to help Racing Welfare fund mental health training in yards, stables and race course across the country.

Karen Ladym, Mental Health Lead for Racing Welfare, says: "We've trained just under 500 people now so our vision is to have a mental health first aider in every work place in the racing industry.

"The courses teach people how to look out for the signs and the symptoms of perhaps somebody in distress, someone that's experiencing mental health issues and to approach them."

One of those to do the course is well known trainer Lucinda Russell, who won the 2017 Grand National with One For Arthur.

Lucinda says: "If I find someone I think has got a problem a, I'm a bit more aware of people's problems, and aware if someone might be struggling.

"But also I now know how to find them help. Horse racing is a very old industry and it's based on some really dodgy principles from the past.

"The way that stables were run it was quite about bullying, it was sometimes not a very nice place to be.

"I think recently people have really, horse racing is a fantastic sport to be and I think it's much more like a family now. "I hope that throughout what we're doing that nobody gets themselves into the position that Tim got into where he felt his options were so limited."

Simon knows the pain of losing a family member and he is now doing all he can to stop other families from having to go through the same.