Time to talk mental health: It’s not a weakness

Don’t turn away; providing mental health and wellbeing support to staff and passengers can have huge benefits for everyone

How are you feeling?

Just those four small words can hold a great power when it comes to building a conversation, and the answer can go one of two ways: Positive or negative.

A quarter of all adults in England have been diagnosed with at least one mental illness according to the Health Survey of England. Asking about their feelings is the easiest and most proven way to help boost someone’s mental health.

In the light of Blackpool Transport’s new wellbeing scheme and seeing as the subject played an important role in this year’s Catch the Bus Week [routeone/Big Story/10 July], it’s only fitting that we ask if the industry is playing its part in supporting and encouraging positive mental health.

Richard Bamber, Managing Director of Anthony’s Travel, opened up to routeone about his personal experience and how important it is for the industry to support one another.

“We have a duty of care to our staff and customers. Depression is a hard one to pick up in passengers as you’re only dealing with them for short period of times, but when it comes to dealing with staff, mental health is vital,” he says.

“We live in a world that is very high pressured, so it’s important to be looking out for each other.”

New initiatives

Blackpool Transport is the latest operator to come forward and promote what it is doing to support mental health [routeone/News/7 August].

It is developing and delivering a mental and physical wellbeing training programme which it says is for the benefit of staff and the wider community.

The scheme includes 70 volunteers from across the firm’s departments, all of whom have been trained as Wellbeing Ambassadors. This team is known as ‘Be The Shoulder’, which is an internal support programme for colleagues who may have issues relating to their wellbeing.

The programme includes positive signposting and bespoke events relating to mental, physical and financial matters for all employees.

“We want everyone to be aware that there is always someone to talk to within Blackpool Transport and also have a better understanding of the issues that a customer may have that they come into contact with during their working day,” Jane Cole, Blackpool Transport Managing Director, says.

To develop its own awareness of mental health and wellbeing issues, employees are being given the tools to become more observant of the issues that might be faced by its customers – including dementia and hidden disabilities.

“As an employer, you do have a duty of care. And if you shut away from someone and think: ‘They’re always miserable’ and don’t try to help them, the situation will eventually become amplified,” Mr Bamber adds.

“You can’t always help people, but you’ve just got to try your best and look out for the signs.”

For passengers

There’s no denying the coach and bus industry is one that cares.

It regularly supports one another and has, throughout the years, developed positive initiatives that raises awareness of both employees’ and passengers’ wellbeing. RNIB’s ‘Swap with Me’ campaign, which sees drivers wear glasses to simulate blindness, is just one area where operators are encouraging its staff to understand the health conditions – and challenges – faced by passengers.

And it’s an ongoing development.

A recent online survey conducted by University College London and supported by Bus Users, has looked at the difficulties faced by people with mental health issues when using public transport, and what can be done to help.

The research found that having to talk to staff such as bus drivers makes nearly half of respondents anxious.

It also found that apart from better behaviour by their fellow travellers, factors that would encourage them to travel more by public transport are clearer information before and during travel, better trained staff, and, in the case of train, being able to contact a member of staff in person when on board.

“Not only is implementing wellbeing and mental health support the right thing to do, but by catering for customers with all disabilities as standard, you are empowering your staff to deliver an overall improved customer experience for everyone,” says Ms Cole.

“And in providing wellbeing and mental health support to your staff, you are looking after their health, promoting a healthy work culture and likely contributing to the reduction of staff sickness/absence.”

Breaking the stigma

Mr Bamber, who is also a Time to Change Halton ambassador, explains that the challenge the industry has is to break down the stigmas and understand that it’s not a sign of weakness to talk about it. He also adds that mental health support in the workplace shouldn’t be entered into lightly and that it’s not a “box-ticking” exercise.

“One piece of advice I’d give to operators is don’t pay lip service,” he says.

“If you’re going to do this, you have to open your eyes and look into it fully. Mental health is quite a big topic at the moment so some people may just be ticking boxes to say, ‘yes, we’ve done that’ – like a risk assessment.

“However, you’re not doing it any justice. You need to research best practice on how to deal with it. Speak to your staff and speak to other operators before you implement anything in the workplace. If you just try to implement some generic mental health policy you won’t see any tangible benefits and, most importantly, it will not benefit your staff.”