Mental Health Awareness Week – You are not alone

18 September 2023

Andrew McKerrow has been a big advocate for mental health in the racing industry over the last decade and he is throwing his support behind the Mental Health Awareness Week campaign this week.

McKerrow is the New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Chaplain, a role that he helped create more than seven years ago to give industry participants a resource to contact if they required support.

“I am so passionate about it. I was an apprentice when I was a kid, I wasn’t very good at it, but I hung around racing for about three or four years and fell in love with the sport,” he said.

“I couldn’t help but think if I wanted help or needed support, there wasn’t anywhere to go. That spawned the idea of building something within racing in that area.

“It (Racing Chaplain) is a pastoral care role. The intention is being around at the right time for people so if they need somebody to talk to and need support our role is to stay alongside them and link them up with the help they need.

“We are really lucky that we have got some good networks within racing. There is a counselling service and we have got good drug and alcohol links as well.

“It is just listening to people and figuring out whether it is something they need extra help with or are they just needing to vent and get something off their chest, and we go from there.

“If they are needing any other services, we make sure we link them up with whatever service they need.

“We do a lot with injured jockeys as well, just making sure they are followed up and visited.”

Andrew arriving on-course.

Mental health continues to be a rising concern within New Zealand and racing, and McKerrow said people don’t have to battle their issues alone.

“Don’t struggle by yourself. We can carry things around in our head and it can seem like there is a big mountain that we are trying to overcome and the more we think about it and keep it to ourselves the worse it gets,” he said.

“The moment we let the light in by inviting someone else in, it loses its power, so talking to someone like myself can help reduce the size and weight of whatever we are going through.”

McKerrow said there are steps and resources in place for people to approach if they are concerned about themselves, a friend, or colleague.

“Just make an approach to the person and check-in to see if they are okay,” McKerrow said.

“If you are worried about them still, go to somebody like myself and raise that you are worried about that person. That gives us the chance to get involved and do a bit of a second check as well.”

McKerrow said self-care is critical, particular for people under a lot of stress and pressure.

“We are an industry where there is naturally a lot of pressure. Often pressure produces stress and it is something we need to pay attention to,” he said.

“When we are under pressure, we stop doing those basic selfcare things like eating well and resting. If we are under the pump, we need to be mindful to take better care of ourselves.”

While mental health has been a focus point for NZTR, further investment is being made in this area, with a few exciting developments in the near future.

“Next year there are some really exciting things happening in this space with Victoria McArthur, who has been hired by NZTR to design a comprehensive mental health programme for racing, which is really exciting,” McKerrow said.

“She has hired some researchers and they are going to try and identify what are the actual needs after talking to all the different areas of the industry. Then we can decide on the interventions that we want to put in place to help solve those issues.”

McKerrow said Mental Health Awareness week is a good time to check in with yourself, your mates and your colleagues, and urges anyone who is suffering any mental health or addiction issues to reach out to their doctor, the helplines, or himself.

“There are certain things that we can do to help ourselves emotionally, but depression is a physical disorder as well and needs treatment just the same way a broken leg does,” he said.

If you are worried that you, or someone you care about is struggling or needs support, help is available. Please reach out to one of the organisations below. You are not alone.

Help is available:

  • Call 111 immediately if you think that you or someone else is at risk of harm. For more information see in-crisis.
  • Free call or text 1737 anytime to talk with a trained counsellor 24/7
  • Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)
  • Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email [email protected] or online chat
  • Samaritans – 0800 726 666
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Andrew McKerrow, Racing Chaplain – 029 771 2398 or email [email protected]
  • Vitae – 0508 664 98

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