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Better designed transport infrastructure can solve mental illness ‘blackspots’

Action to reduce the most stress-inducing journeys by the way rail stations, airports and roads across the UK are designed could play a critical role in improving the mental wellbeing of commuters.

A new study commissioned by London City Airport has revealed the extent of the problem on our hands in the UK with an estimated £66.5bn cost to the economy, due to sickness related absences and more people quitting their job due to poor mental health.

Using NHS Digital data to assess the prevalence and cost of mental health disorders in different English regions, the report entitled Building better: the role of transport infrastructure and services in improving mental health highlights three key areas where improvements in transport services could make a tangible difference to millions of people.

These improvements include:

  1.  Better journeys: reducing delays, cancellations, anti-social behaviour and overcrowding, and keeping passengers well-informed when there is disruption  
  2. Better design: minimising noise, increasing natural light and making it easier to navigate around stations and airports are major factors contributing to people’s mental wellbeing 
  3. Better accessibility and support: passengers with hidden disabilities, travellers with specific conditions such as Alzheimer’s, or those suffering from suicidal feelings, need tailored support which can be improved with staff training

The research also pinpoints mental illness ‘blackspots’ in English regions, with almost one in five adults in the south west and north west suffering from common mental disorders.

It identifies the English regions with the highest cost to the economy and unsurprisingly Greater London comes out on top with a £12bn expense, followed closely by the north west (£10bn), south east (£9bn), south west (£8bn). 

Robert Sinclair, chief executive of London City Airport, said poorly infrastructure which have little natural light or poor accessibility for people with mobility issues can easily increase stress and anxiety.

“Mental ill health is a complex issue with many contributing factors, but we commissioned this study to look at this national health problem through the lens we know best – transport,” Sinclair added. “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.”

Gillian Connor, head of policy and partnerships at Rethink Mental Illness, added: “The importance of good mental wellbeing 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 wellbeing and we look forward to seeing how this develops further.”