RSSB: 40% of rail workers suffer from a mental health condition

Mental health in rail workers

The Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) has published a survey which found over 40% of rail workers are suffering with a mental health condition.

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

Almost half of the 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. 

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The 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%.

The challenges associated with performing a public-facing role during the pandemic were also clear. Half the survey respondents were frontline rail workers.

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.

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Despite the prevalence of poor mental health, only half of participants sought help. Sickness absence was five times higher than the general population pre-pandemic 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.

What needs to change?

RSSB psychologists warn 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 focusing on workplace factors that employers can directly influence.

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RSSB also say 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.”

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