This is Me, This is Rail:

Mental health used to be a dirty word in the rail industry. It was associated with softness, weakness, unreliability - antonymous with the rail industry. The discourse is changing.

We are learning that what we thought of mental health was all wrong. Mental health lives beside strength. It travels hand in hand with grit. Most importantly, we are learning that mental health is inherently partnered with safety. RSSB has had an unprecedented number of requests for support from its members on mental health. How do we raise awareness? How do we reduce stigma? What does the evidence base show us works in industry? How do we measure change?

Building on these requests for support, we have been developing a mental health programme plan. This plan integrates what industry has told us it wants, what the evidence base suggests may work, and the good practice some members have already been implementing on the ground.

On 27 March we held a workshop with industry leaders in health, wellbeing and safety, to gather feedback on what we had put together. Representatives from 22 member organisations attended, as well as TSSA and Unite. As part of the programme, we aim to provide members with a suite of tools on mental health they can add to their toolbox. It's about creating a network of collaboration and knowledge. Most importantly, it's about learning from each other what has worked in an industry that has its own unique risk factors.

Raising awareness and tackling stigma

RSSB, along with many of our members, has had positive experiences using the Time to Change campaign. This aims to change how we think and act about mental health problems, reducing mental health stigma and increasing opportunities to talk. Hundreds of employers across the UK have now taken the pledge, including many in the rail sector, such as Atkins, South Western Railway, MTR Crossrail, Transport for London, Siemens, Network Rail, Costain, and Virgin Trains East Coast.

At the workshop, Vinny Mott, an engineer at Atkins, reflected on her experience of being a wellbeing champion, the progress Atkins has seen in mental health, and the powerful knock-on effects on the whole company.

Javed Thomas, the Director of Development at the Lord Mayor's Appeal, talked about the This Is Me initiative. This provides tools for opening up conversations around mental health. There are three elements: Storytelling, Wellbeing in the City, and the Green Ribbons.

Storytelling involves people in the workplace sharing their journey with mental health through a video with their colleagues. The only cost is the minutes it takes to do the recording. The only equipment it requires is a phone with a camera, and an intranet to upload to. No bells and whistle are required, yet it is one of the most potent tools we have. City powerhouses like PwC and Barclays have had employees come forward at all levels of their organisation, speaking about what was once unspeakable, and creating a significant culture shift within their organisations.

Wellbeing in the City is an online interactive learning experience created in partnership with Samaritans, giving people the tools to look out for their own emotional health, support others in theirs, and engage in compassionate conversations that help prevent people from getting to crisis point.

The Green Ribbon campaign is only in its second year. By wearing the green ribbon we are showing a commitment to #endthestigma of mental health. Last year saw 160 organisations promote the green ribbon during Mental Health Awareness Week – which this year is 14-18 May. This year we want the rail industry to be part of this drive. We have already ordered our ribbons at RSSB. With the support of the industry we hope that we too can change the conversation around mental health in rail. Through This is Me we hope we can show that This is Rail.    

Rail Specific Supplements

We know that working in the rail industry presents unique risk factors, which will need their own unique interventions. The Health and Wellbeing Policy Group has identified mental health as an industry priority. Long hours, shift patterns, challenging conditions, as well as risk of exposure to traumatic stimuli can make maintaining our mental wellbeing difficult. The Health and Wellbeing Team is aiming to take a holistic approach to mental wellbeing, building on fatigue, diet, exercise, and sleep. If we are feeling well physically, that is often half the battle to feeling well mentally, and is an important strand in both prevention and intervention.

The ORR has identified stress and mental health as a key priority in its Occupational Health programme. Its position paper on work-related stress highlights the need to move beyond a reactive approach to stress, to preventative measures.

RSSB will be working towards the implementation of the Stevenson Farmer Review's recommendations for employers on mental health, and promoting a maturity model which compliments it.  The Health and Wellbeing Team aim to provide a suite of resources for members to access on a range of topics, from posttraumatic stress disorder, to job design. By using wellbeing champions who can always be there as a link and go-to person, we can provide train-the-trainer packages to keep knowledge in an organisation. Most importantly, we aim to be there to provide consultation and trouble shooting support when members come up against their own local issues.

To increase collaboration and maintain a learning network, we are establishing a Wellbeing Policy Sub Group, which can feed into the Health and Wellbeing Policy Group. We had several workshop attendees nominate themselves as reps. We also plan to share our members' good local practice through regular communication. There are many ways to achieve good practice, and we want to inspire others through what is already happening in the industry.

While we can learn a lot from industry case studies, we also need rigorous larger scale evaluations and research projects. RSSB shared its progress to date on its upcoming research project on line manager training in mental health, with several companies volunteering their line managers.

RSSB Priorities

Workshop attendees used the breakout sessions to highlight key areas that needed to be prioritised within the Mental Wellbeing Programme Plan. This included:

  • Supporting senior level buy-in
  • Development of metrics to demonstrate return on investment
  • Working alongside the trade unions
  • Ensuring that guidance on evidence-based line manager training is available to the industry
  • Utilising dedicated senior wellbeing champions within companies to support collaboration and grassroots working
  • Providing a suite of resources on mental wellbeing
  • Promoting awareness and understanding of mental wellbeing
  • Providing guidance for supporting line managers who are in turn supporting their teams

Looking to the Future
Regular ongoing engagement will ensure RSSB's work has the right steer from industry so we can support our members on health and wellbeing. We aspire to not only reducing the burden of cost of mental health difficulties on the industry, but crucially improving safety and the quality of the working lives of rail employees.

Join us on this journey in time for Mental Health Awareness Week (14-18 May) by registering at so we can turn This Is Me into This Is Rail.

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