Mental health and travel report launched

Operators of transport such as buses and trains need to do more to support people with mental health difficulties to help them travel, a new survey has revealed.

A survey of 385 people who responded to an online survey investigating the relationship between mental health and travel led to Prof Roger Mackett’s report on the evidence, which was officially launched at UCL on 17 June 2019, includes 39 recommendations for the government and travel providers.

With c. 25% of adults in England diagnosed with at least one mental illness according to the Health Survey of England, Prof Roger Mackett from UCL’s Centre for Transport Studies has carried out a survey of people with mental health conditions, in order to establish the difficulties that people with such conditions have when travelling, and to identify ways in which these can be overcome.

The survey was carried out online through a link to a questionnaire. This was distributed by 18 organisations including TfL, Sustrans, Transport Scotland, SANE, Anxiety UK and Mental Health Action Group.

All survey respondents had one or more mental health conditions, with 90% having anxieties and 68% suffering from depression. The main causes reported of anxiety whilst travelling were the behaviour and attitudes of other people, and difficulties finding the way, including the fear of being lost.

Over a third of survey respondents said they were frequently unable to leave home because of their mental health, with nearly all the respondents saying this happens to them some of the time; situations such as having to talk to bus or taxi drivers were highlighted as making respondents feel anxious. The extra cost the respondents are often burdened with was also apparent; over half stated that they cannot buy cheaper rail tickets in advance, because they do not know how they will feel on the day of travel.

Very few of the survey respondents possess travel aids such as Disabled Persons Railcards or ‘Blue Badges’ for car parking. Many stated that receiving these or other initiatives such as travel training would encourage them to travel more. Only 7% of survey respondents had used ‘Passenger Assist’ schemes to help them make rail journeys, but over half of these had found such help unsatisfactory at least some of the time.

Such a bleak picture indicates that there is a much needed shift in attitude and culture, according to Prof Roger Mackett, Emeritus Professor of Transport Studies in the UCL Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering (CEGE). “It’s clear that a large proportion of people with mental health conditions find travelling extremely challenging. My report includes a number of recommendations that would not only make travel more accessible for them, but also improve journeys for everyone. Quite often, those with mental health conditions are overlooked when transport systems are being designed. With a few simple policy and behaviour changes, we could transform the way everyone is able to get about – and therefore be more independent, and lead fuller lives.”

The report – which has been reviewed by staff at Anxiety UK, Sustrans, Bus Users UK, and some government departments – was officially launched at UCL on 17 June 2019. A networking drinks reception followed a talk and Q&A session by Prof Mackett, attended by a number of guests and transport journalists.

It is hoped that the government and the transport sector will implement the report’s recommendations, ranging from ensuring transport staff are trained to understand mental health issues, to enabling advance priced rail tickets to be available for people with travel anxiety on the day of purchase.

Other suggestions include the introduction of panic buttons on train and London Underground carriages, so that contact can be made with a person trained to understand mental health issues; people with mental health conditions being able to purchase Disabled Persons Railcards, so they can take a companion with them for only one third more than the cost for one person; and people with mental health conditions who have difficulty communicating with staff being eligible for concessionary bus passes.

Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of Anxiety UK, said: “Anxiety UK welcomes this report, which highlights a comprehensive range of issues that those experiencing mental health problems face when travelling by public transport. It is our aspiration that transport operators adopt the recommendations made and in doing so, reduce the challenges that those with mental health issues currently face.”

The report also suggests that local authorities and transport operators should provide more ‘Safe places’ where people can talk to trained members of staff, for example in shops and stations. Wayfinding websites and apps would also ideally offer more options for public transport routes, e.g. routes that stay above ground. In addition, employers should enable more staff to work from home where feasible, plus make this information known when advertising vacant jobs (therefore not putting people off applying due to commuting concerns).

As Prof Mackett concludes, apart from more understanding behaviour by fellow travellers, factors that would encourage people with mental health conditions to travel more by public transport  are “clearer information before and during travel, better trained staff, and, in the case of train travel, being able to contact a member of staff in person when on board.”

With the launch a success, it is hoped that all of the 39 recommendations put forward will be considered by the relevant organisations.

A full copy of the report can be read here