Good Service on All Lines? Mental Health & Transport

London transport

Newcomers realise very quickly that travelling in London is unique; the crowds, the cost, the underground, and the oyster! But what if you have a mental health or invisible disability? For many, transport isn’t just a hassle but a major barrier; a barrier to social, cultural and working life.

It took me a year to realise that the Northern line isn’t a line at all… it’s a sort of loop! Now, the capital’s eccentricities are old news but getting to work can be a battle. Londoners have the longest average commute (75mins) and face unique stresses getting around. This type of daily stress can lead to poor mental health and illness. Transport also creates very significant barriers for people with mental health problems.

What if your disability makes it difficult for you to ask for a priority seat, or makes you worry about what people will think if you sit in it? I've stood up for pregnant women, knowing full well that I really needed to stay sitting.

Firstly, it’s vital to recognise that a mental health problem, even if a diagnosis is the same, has a different impact (or no impact) on someone’s ability to travel. One person may have panic attacks triggered by crowds, another may have a phobia of escalators, or anxiety caused by being underground.

So what can we do?

  • When we’re supporting someone to find work, we look at travel; if distance or type of transport will have an impact on mental health
  • Employment Advisors often accompany people to interviews - to find new places for the first time

People don't realise that the journey to work, or wherever, sometimes uses up most of the energy you have for the day (emotional and physical). So the easier the travel the more you will have left when you get there.

  • Employers can help staff with flexible working hours to avoid peak times or allowing some working from home
  • Mental Health First Aid training in workplaces so transport staff and colleagues can identify and help someone who is unwell
  • Challenge stigma so people feel able to ask for help from transport staff and other passengers too
  • Practical solutions such as genuinely quiet coaches and places to wait. More bathrooms, greater step-free access and priority seating may also help
  • Research: asking people what they need

The Mental Health and Transport Summit in February tried to set out the issues and find solutions. The summit talked about mobility, equality laws and changing attitudes. If these discussions turn into actions, it could make a real difference to an issue that has often been ignored. 

I used to have anxiety on the train, tube and bus. But I never use to talk about it so it is interesting to hear other people's stories and realise that I am not alone.

Shahina is Twining's Communications Coordinator, you can follow her on Twitter @Comms_Twining. All comments in quotations are from people with lived experience of mental health.

*Image by Donald Ogg, copyright protected.

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