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Mental health and travel

Professor Roger Mackett

Roger Mackett, Emeritus of Transport Studies at University College London, has been carrying out a survey about the difficulties that people with mental health conditions have when they travel. Here he talks about how he did it and what he found.

Over a quarter of the population in this country has a mental illness according to the Health Survey of England which affects their everyday lives including travelling.

There is little sound evidence about the scale of the issues. I decided that there was scope for a survey of people with mental health conditions to find out about their difficulties and their thoughts about ways of addressing them. I designed a questionnaire and, having obtained ethical approval, I coded it using Opinio software and distributed the link via my contacts in the mental health and transport worlds, including the Campaign for Better Transport. They used social media, particularly Twitter, newsletters and websites to distribute the link over the summer of 2018.

385 people with mental health conditions responded. The sample was pretty similar to the distributions of age, gender and type of mental illness in the national figures, possibly slightly under-representative of men and older people.

The respondents were invited to answer factual questions and to describe their experiences when travelling. Most of them had several mental health conditions. 90% have anxiety issues and 68% suffer from depression. Over a third of them frequently cannot leave home because of their mental illness, and day-to-day fluctuations in their health mean that over half of them cannot buy advanced train tickets so they miss out on some of the cheapest fares. About half of them cannot use buses or trains.

When they do go out, the biggest cause of anxiety is the attitudes and behaviour of other people; having to talk to staff such as bus drivers makes nearly half of them anxious; another major cause of anxiety is finding the way without becoming lost. 40% of them are anxious about finding suitable toilets when travelling, particularly older people.

Factors that would encourage them to travel more by bus and train 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. Very few of the respondents possess travel assistance cards, concessionary bus passes, ‘Please offer me a seat’ badges, Disabled Persons Railcards, or ‘Blue Badges’ for car parking or have received travel training; many of them say that these initiatives would encourage them travel more if they received them.

The recommendations include designating ‘quiet routes’ in urban areas, being able to contact the train conductor by mobile phone when assistance is required, easier access to Disabled Persons Railcards and other concessions, more ‘Safe places’ where people can talk to a trained member of staff, cards asking taxi drivers not to chat and more options for public transport routes on mobile phone wayfinding apps such as avoiding tunnels.

It is hoped that publication of this report will stimulate debate about these issues and that the recommendations will form the basis of policy and action. By doing so, not only will a significant proportion of the population find it easier to travel, everyone will benefit from more pleasant and comfortable journeys.

Download the full report here.