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Image: Bruno Cannatelli

The fact that nobody is immune to the adverse effects surrounding mental health issues has been well documented in recent times with several high profile and successful … certainly performance-wise … elite athletes also shining the light on the on this dark but intangible presence which can take over people’s lives as much as any physical disease.

Joao Moreira, the super successful, four-time champion jockey in Hong Kong, has now added his voice to the many tales of depressing and the suffocating effect it can have on a person’s life in a revealing interview with Asia Bloodstock News.

Moreira referred to a serious bout of depression he suffered towards the end of the 2019-20 season saying his mind ‘was destroyed’ during a time when various factors … on-going injuries, lack of support … affected him psychologically.

The black cloud that hovers and engulfs a person at this time might be difficult to understand for those who have never been there to that degree, but Moreira’s detailed insight to what that sort of depression involves paints a disturbing picture of the fatiguing mental battle that takes place in such circumstances.

“When you’re under depression you actually can’t find ways to change your mindset. When you start telling yourself ‘I can’t do it’ or ‘I’m trying but it’s not happening’ it’s like a devil in your mind telling you you’re not capable, that whatever you try again, it’s not going to work,” Moreira told Asian Bloodstock News.

“You don’t feel like getting out of your home, you don’t feel like doing anything. All you want to do is hide in the darkness. You want to just lock yourself into a room, making sure the curtains are closed so not much light from outside comes in. Things become very difficult.

“It is an issue people here aren’t looking to enough and the consequence is that people are dealing with these effects that can have consequences for the rest of their lives.

“I’ve been shouting about it, but apparently my voice is quite small, so I’m happy that a big person in the world of athletes like Simone Biles (a champion gymnast who withdrew from Olympic events last week citing mental health reasons) is actually expressing it. Doing it bigger and louder and making sure the world is listening.”

Moreira suggested that Hong Kong was behind the leading racing jurisdictions in terms of looking after the psychological welfare of jockeys.

“They have a physiotherapist for us and they have a nutritionist and these guys make sure that physically we’re healthy, but the Club has put this psychological element away to the side,” said Moreira.

Moreira can take heart from the fact though, that a number of studies into the welfare of sportsman and woman in general, and some studies on jockeys in particular … with Ireland noted as leading the way … have and are being conducted around the world, the results of which will undoubted bring a more positive focus to the treatment of this matter.

Mental health problems have now emerged front stage and centre and it is not going away … so it will soon be, if it is not already, incumbent of all major sporting organisations to up their game to an acceptable standard when it comes to looking after the mental health of their participants who, after-all, in a sporting context, are the ones actually putting on the show!

 
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