Improving designs at rail stations, airports and on roads could help tackle mental illness and save England billions of pounds each year, according to a London City Airport-commissioned study.
The report Building better: The role of transport infrastructure and services in improving mental health uses NHS Digital data to assess the prevalence and cost of mental health disorders in different English regions. It highlights three areas where “improvements in transport services could make a tangible difference to mental health for millions of people”.
According to the report, journeys could be improved to reduce adverse impacts on mental health by cutting out delays, cancellations, anti-social behaviour and overcrowding, and keeping passengers well informed when there is disruption.
The report also highlights how better designs could also reduce negative mental health effects by minimising noise, increasing natural light and making it easier to navigate stations and airports.
Negative mental health impacts could also be tackled by improving staff training and tailoring support for passengers with hidden disabilities, those with specific conditions such as Alzheimer’s, or those having suicidal thoughts.
According to the report, the annual cost to the economy of poor mental health caused by factors such as sickness related absences and people quitting their jobs is £66.5bn.
In addition, mental illness is calculated by the report to cost public services £20bn, especially as people with mental health conditions are likely to use the NHS.
“The high prevalence of poor mental health is having a devastating impact on our economy with some English regions losing up to £12bn every year from lost economic output,” the report states.
It adds: “The English regions with the highest cost to the economy from 16 to 74 year-olds suffering from a mental health condition are Greater London (£12bn), the North West (£10bn), the South East (£9bn) and the South West (£8bn).”
London City Airport chief executive Robert Sinclair said: “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.
”Likewise, poorly designed stations or airports which have little natural light or poor accessibility for people with mobility issues could increase stress and anxiety.”
Rethink Mental Illness head of policy and partnerships Gillian Connor added: “Life can be stressful. The increasing pressure on our transport infrastructure can leave many of us feeling unnecessarily stressed as we try to navigate our increasingly busy lives. It can also render public transport essentially unusable to those of us that are severely affected by mental illness.”
“Overall the study finds that 1 in 6 people across the country suffer from mental ill health every week, with especially high rates of prevalence in the South West and North West, where almost one in five adults report suffering from a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder and phobias,” she added.
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