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Better transport can help mental health, claims report

Words: Laura Edgar
Experiences at stations and airports affect people's mental health / Shutterstock_771044566

The mental health of people in England’s regions could be improved if their experiences at rail stations, airports and on roads were better, according to a report commissioned by London City Airport.

Authored by WPI Economics, Building Better: The Role of Transport Infrastructure and Services in Improving Mental Health considers NHS Digital data to assess the prevalence and cost of mental health disorders in England’s regions.

Robert Sinclair, chief executive of London City Airport, explained: “This study shows that improving and investing in the country’s transport infrastructure could play a key role in improving the well-being of millions of people travelling across England.

“A good or bad experience while travelling, and the environments encountered, can have a profound impact on stress levels, particularly if there is unpredictability, perceived lack of control, delays or cancellations, closures or overcrowding. Likewise, poorly designed stations or airports which have little natural light or poor accessibility for people with mobility issues could increase stress and anxiety.”

The findings suggest that there is an annual cost of £66.5 billion cost to the economy owing to sickness-related absences and more people quitting their jobs because of poor mental health. Of that, £20 billion is attributable to the strain on public services.

As a result, some English regions are losing up to £12 billion every year from lost economic output. Considering those aged 16 to 74 with a mental health condition, the report says the regional economies most affected by this are: Greater London (£12 billion), the North West (£10 billion), the South East (£9 billion), and the South West (£8 billion).

There are three key areas of transport services that can be improved to “make a tangible difference” to people’s mental health:

  • Better journeys – Delays, cancellations, antisocial behaviour and overcrowding should be reduced. Passengers should be kept well informed when there is disruption.
  • Improved design – Minimising noise, increasing natural light and making it easier to navigate around stations and airports are “major factors” contributing to people’s mental well-being.
  • Transport for all – Improved training would enable staff to provide tailored support for passengers with hidden disabilities, conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or those suffering from suicidal thoughts.

Gillian Connor, head of policy and partnerships at Rethink Mental Illness, said: “Life can be stressful. The increasing pressure on our transport infrastructure can leave many of us feel unnecessarily stressed as we try to navigate our increasingly busy lives. It can also render public transport essentially unusable to those of us that are severely affected by mental illness.

“The importance of good mental well-being is an issue that we have all woken up to in the last few years and it is encouraging to see action being considered across society. Thoughtful approaches and small changes in our transport systems could make a huge difference to our well-being and we look forward to seeing how this develops further.”

Image credit | Shutterstock