Mental Health in the Equine Industry
Throughout the year there are two key times that we are encouraged to turn some much-needed attention to the subject of mental health, in the form of Mental Health Awareness Week in May and World Mental Health Day in October. Naturally, we focus our attention on the matter of mental health in the equine industry.
Furthermore and right now, I am struck by how many decent Grooms are active on ‘our books’ looking for work, through no fault of their own, this is hard for you all I know and with less jobs to choose from as a direct result of COVID-19, and none of us is sure exactly when this will pick up again, this can cause understandable anxiety, not to mention in some instances serious money and security issues!
In general though, before anyone gets too carried away though thinking that equine grooms are different from the rest of the working population in terms of susceptibility to mental health issues, let’s look at the general context. The world as a whole is looking to remove the stigma that historically has surrounded mental health and putting it on to an open agenda as opposed to being something that people are scared or embarrassed to talk about. Employers and employees are all people, and all people (and many animals actually), are susceptible to mental health issues – in the workplace and outside of it. At work, if you have a good working relationship with those you work with that support is of untold value and we often hear heartwarming stories of such bonds forged in the equestrian yard environment.
We take the opportunity to reinforce that we are happy to support such initiatives where we can and as ever, to advise on issues which can arise relating this directly to the employer : groom dynamic with which we are so familiar. Myself and my team are always here to help and advise as part of the process of supporting you through your various career and job seeker employment choices over the years – the good, the bad and sometimes the darn right ugly!
Mental health at work – Mental Health Awareness Week
by Melanie Dimmock
As many of you will be aware, the British Grooms Association (BGA) launched the Grooms Minds project in 2017, which is all about raising awareness of issues related to mental health in the equine industry in order to offer support. The first phase of the project was to find out just how many grooms were affected by these issues and the results or a widespread survey they ran surprised them. Within the wider context of the population as a whole, their findings were not hugely at odds with the common statistics found in the working population at large.
Some work-related mental health facts and figures*
- Government studies show that in Great Britain (across all industries) 11.5% of our sickness absences were as a result of mental health issues (including stress, depression, anxiety and other serious conditions)
- 75% of us on average, are spending a third of our waking hours in the workplace.
- Each year in the UK around 40% of our sick days are attributed to stress, anxiety or depression.
- The typical reasons for our work-related stress are: work overload, too little work, lack of support, inadequate training, poor working relationships, poor working environment or personal factors.
A Mental Health Foundation survey found:
- when working long hours more than a quarter of employees feel depressed (27%), one third feel anxious (34%), and more than half feel irritable (58%) – as a person’s weekly hours increase, so do our feelings of unhappiness.
- many more women report unhappiness than men (42% of women compared with 29% of men). www.mentalhealth.org.uk
CareersCast found the 10 most stressful jobs in the world in 2017 to be:
- Enlisted military personnel
- Airline pilot
- Police officer
- Event coordinator
- Newspaper reporter
- Senior corporate executive
- PR executive
- Taxi driver
Mental health in the equine industry
Phase 1 of the British Grooms Association Grooms Minds project – the survey – undertaken by the BGA in 2017, highlighted mental well-being issues within the profession and saw grooms across the industry call for more to be done to raise awareness and support grooms with their mental health and well-being.
Some quick tips for combatting stress at work*
“In life, there’s always a solution to a problem,” says Professor Cary Cooper, an occupational health expert at the University of Lancaster. “Not taking control of the situation and doing nothing will only make your problems worse.”
1. Take control -There’s a solution to any problem.
“If you remain passive, thinking, ‘I can’t do anything about my problem’, your stress will get worse,” says Professor Cooper. “That feeling of loss of control is one of the main causes of stress and lack of well being.” The act of taking control is in itself empowering, and it’s a crucial part of finding a solution.
A good support network of colleagues, friends and family can ease your work troubles and help you see things in a different way. “If you don’t connect with people, you won’t have support to turn to when you need help,” says Professor Cooper. The activities we do with friends help us relax. We often have a good laugh with them, which is an excellent stress reliever. “Talking things through with a friend will also help you find solutions to your problems,” says Professor Cooper.
3. Make sure you get some “me time”!
Here in the UK, we work the longest hours in Europe, meaning we often don’t spend enough time doing things we really enjoy. “We all need to take some time for socialising, relaxation or exercise,” says Professor Cooper. He recommends setting aside a couple of nights a week for some quality “me time” away from work.
Setting yourself goals and challenges, whether at work or outside, helps to build confidence. This will help you deal with stress. “By continuing to learn, you become more emotionally resilient as a person,” says Professor Cooper.
5. Avoid unhealthy habits
Don’t rely on alcohol, smoking and caffeine as your ways of coping. “Men more than women are likely to do this. We call this avoidance behaviour,” says Professor Cooper. “Women are better at seeking support from their social circle. Over the long term, these crutches won’t solve your problems. They’ll just create new ones. “It’s like putting your head in the sand,” says Professor Cooper. “It might provide temporary relief, but it won’t make the problems disappear. You need to tackle the cause of your stress.”
Look for the positives in life, and things for which you’re grateful. “People don’t always appreciate what they have,” says Professor Cooper. “Try to be glass half full instead of glass half empty,” he says. Try writing down three things that went well, or for which you’re grateful, at the end of every day.
7. Accept the things you can’t change
Changing a difficult situation isn’t always possible. Try to concentrate on the things you do have control over. “If your company is going under and is making redundancies, for example, there’s nothing you can do about it,” says Professor Cooper. “In a situation like that, you need to focus on the things that you can control, such as looking for a new job.”
*Source: NHS Moodzone
Equine grooms may not appear on the top ten list of most stressful jobs worldwide but nevertheless, it is at times a stressful job:
- Other team members have their own issues/personality challenges
- Employers have rarely been trained to unravel issues, problems and don’t always approach as they ideally should
- Horses have personalities /their own issues and challenges and don’t always co-operate 🙂
- Horses can be valuable both in monetary and sentimental value and having them in your care is a BIG responsibility
- The British weather is enough to depress the chirpiest of characters!
For those who can also add to this list a poor working environment, low pay, conflicts between team members, bullying etc. the equine industry can easily become a lonely and bleak place for some.
As part of the on-going Groom’s Minds mental health awareness project, the British Grooms Association (BGA) have launched the Groom’s Minds Support Line – supported by Racing Welfare, a telephone helpline for BGA members.
The free helpline is a significant step forward for the equestrian industry and has been provided for those grooms having challenges within the workplace, or life in general, and who need someone to talk to. It offers callers confidential support and advice on a range of mental health and well-being issues, provided by trained helpers.
You can read more about the BGA’s Grooms Minds Project here.
If you decide:
- Where you are currently working just isn’t working and things can’t be “fixed” by staying put and addressing any issues
- You need to move on and want to start looking for a new job in the equine industry
Please do give Caroline and The Grooms List team a call to discuss your requirements and get the ball rolling. Don’t mistakenly think ANY move is a good move – out of the frying pan is never a good strategy. By helping you to take a look at your options in a constructive, impartial way, we can really help you to make a positive life enhancing career move, not just to grab something that can make things a whole lot worse! Do take a look at some of the testimonials on our site which demonstrate the numerous occasions where this has happened.