Mental Health Focus Must Shift Says Findings from RSSB

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Survey found over 40% of rail workers are suffering a mental health condition. Fewer yoga sessions and fruit bowls, and better working conditions should be the priority.

RSSB has published the first-ever rail industry mental health survey results, calling for better targeting of support to those that need it. 

Almost half 43% of the near-4,000 respondents were found to have met criteria for a clinical mental health condition across screen measures for depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has likely contributed to poor mental health across the general population, with moderate to severe depression increasing from 5.6% to 31.6%, and moderate to severe anxiety increasing from 6% to 18.8%, results which have been reflected in the latest survey.

The challenges associated with performing a public-facing role during the pandemic were also clear. Half the survey respondents were from the front-line, and the additional pressures have clearly taken their toll. 

Poor mental health among individuals also has a hugely detrimental effect on their employers, with knock-on impacts on cost, performance and potential safety implications. Despite the prevalence of poor mental health, only half of participants sought help. Sickness absence was five times higher than the general population pre-Covid and six times higher than the general population during the pandemic. One-in-eight respondents reported experiencing an incident at work where their poor mental health had been a factor.

RSSB psychologists are warning that employers should steer away from lip-service, token gimmicks like yoga and fruit bowls for all. Instead they should use local data better to target more specific intervention where it’s most needed, particularly focussing on workplace factors that employers can directly influence.

There should be more support for those who may be socially excluded such as new starters or those with a disability. There needs to be more reaching out to vulnerable employees with pre-existing mental or physical health conditions, ringfencing time for line managers, union representatives, and wellbeing champions to provide support.

RSSB’s Clinical Psychologist, Dr Michelle O’Sullivan said: 

“For the first time we’ve been able to measure the impact of rail industry work on mental health. The industry has demanding public facing and safety critical roles, with many employees experiencing increased pressure since Covid-19.  Responding to disturbing and challenging situations is often part of those roles. Employers have a responsibility to provide appropriate resources to protect staff from the impact of such events. This research identifies key modifiable work factors that can ensure the rail industry is a great place to work.”

What factors impact mental wellbeing?

Several factors were found to impact mental wellbeing. These are shown in the infographic below.


Are staff being supported?

Despite the prevalence of poor mental health, only half the respondents sought help. Access to evidence-based therapy for those who met criteria for a post-traumatic stress disorder was low, with only 2% having Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and 5% having trauma-focussed cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT).

How can poor mental health impact performance?

Not only did this survey reveal the impact of mental ill-health on participants, but there was a substantial impact on organisations. Sickness absence amongst those reaching ‘caseness’ for a mental health condition was three times higher than those who did not, five times higher than the general population pre-pandemic and six times higher than the general population during the pandemic. Staff were six times more likely to be absent due to a health problem caused, or made worse by work, than a workplace accident. In fact, 12% of participants said they had had an accident or incident at work where they felt their mental health was a factor.