Rail industry must invest in better mental health support, non-profit says

19 May 2023 by Acre
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​Almost one in five rail workers have suffered physical abuse at work, prompting Samaritans to urge the rail industry to invest in vital mental health support.

The suicide prevention charity released new research during Mental Health Awareness Week (May 15-21) which revealed two-thirds of rail staff had experienced negative changes in their mental health, compromising the ability to conduct their work.

The industry-wide mental health and wellbeing support survey, conducted by Samaritans and Mental Health at Work, highlighted more than half (57 percent) of rail workers continued working despite experiencing problems and 44 percent didn’t seek help.

Cost of mental health absences in workplace

Mental health-related absences have cost the sector more than £1.3bn since the start of 2019, and investing in staff mental health has proven to be cost-effective, with employers receiving an average return of £5 for every £1 spent on wellbeing support.

Great Western Railway (GWR) and the Department for Transport (DfT) funded the project which involved 1,773 respondents. An increase in passengers and the rising cost of living has contributed to staff requiring mental health support but as many as 65 percent admitted they didn’t seek support from their organization as felt they couldn’t.

As pressure mounts within the industry amid rail strikes and delayed journeys, 61 percent of rail staff told the researchers they had faced verbal abuse from passengers, while 19 percent suffered physical abuse.

While nearly a quarter of staff confessed they’d called in sick to their manager when their mental health was affected, others gave more promising feedback about how the industry was taking positive action by introducing mental health first aid training and providing platforms to connect with others who had experienced similar issues.

Help from Samaritans

The industry has received a set of recommendations for sustainable change from Samaritans - including more effective trauma support - to transform access to mental health in order to carve out a more inclusive culture and encourage staff to identify and discuss mental health at work.

Olivia Cayley, Head of Rail Program at Samaritans, said: “This study highlights the range of barriers that rail staff experience when it comes to opening up about their mental health and seeking support that provides them with the right tools to feel better. “We want leaders in the rail industry to recognize that change needs to happen now, with investment into mental health and wellbeing support to better protect staff, so people have the help when they need it most.”

Ruth Busby, People and Transformation Director at GWR and Network Rail Wales and Western, said: “The wellbeing of our colleagues is so important, and this study is a further sign of our commitment to promoting an environment that supports positive mental health and colleagues experiencing trauma or mental illness.”

Peter Wilkinson, Managing Director of Passenger Services at DfT, said: “Given the enormous challenges all our staff and managers face every day on this busy and demanding railway, the wellbeing of our colleagues needs to be taken every bit as seriously as we do railway safety.”

Alison Pay, Manging Director of Mental Health At Work, said: “Investing in health and wellbeing should be a priority in any industry, but for the rail industry, where people are at the center of the delivery, it is critical for success, safety and productivity, as well as the mental health of employees.

“This report has highlighted the key areas that very specifically impact mental health within the rail industry and the actions that can support employees moving forwards. It brings together the voice of the employee across all roles, alongside existing research and a review of the progress that has been made so far in this area. Implementing these changes at scale is inevitably challenging, but we now have a clear roadmap of the next steps and we hope that these compelling findings encourage all operators within this vital sector to begin the journey and make a difference to the working lives of the thousands of front line workers that keep both the country and the economy moving.”

Call 116 123 to speak to a Samaritan.


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