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The industry comes together for Mental Health Awareness Week

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Rail Insider looks at how the industry came together to talk and help one another during Mental Health Awareness Week.

During Mental Health Awareness Week, many stepped forward to tell their stories, as well as explore how we can help people facing difficult times.

For the team at Rail Business Daily, of which Rail Insider is a part, this week of sharing and learning began close to home.

Richard Clinnick has not been at Rail Business Daily very long, so it took serious courage to tell of his own battles with depression.

It was a reminder of how serious and pervasive the issue of poor mental health is. For some, it is about dealing with suicidal thoughts, but for many, as Richard emphasises, it is about dealing with something more hidden from public view but all-encompassing. Many people have depression that don’t come close to taking their own lives, but for whom the situation filters every aspect of their day.

Richard says in his article that he is past the worst of it, but hearing someone tell how it affected them brings mental health into real focus.

Rail Business Daily has worked long and hard to find ways to deal with mental health issues. Now, with the help of our head of HR, Gill Brabham, we are working to help one another in new ways. Rail Business Daily has signed up to Mind’s Mental Health at Work Commitment. This is a framework of standards employers can follow to improve and support the mental health of their people.

Other initiatives at RBD now include flexible working, increased communication, new internal systems and improved company sick pay. Gill said: “This is just a start – my list is long, and we recognise that this is an ongoing, evolving process of listening, learning and adjusting. But, what a start! It’s amazing what can be achieved in just a few weeks when everyone in a business, from the top down, is on the same page regarding what’s most important. At Business Daily Group, it’s definitely the people. Watch this space.”

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, our team reached out to those who have either dealt with their own conditions or are working to help those suffering.

Davie O’Donnell is a customer service assistant at Edinburgh Waverley railway station who approached his manager when he felt he couldn’t carry on feeling the way he did.

Davie now volunteers at Andy’s Man Club, an organisation that runs talking groups for men who have either been through a storm, are currently going through a storm or have a storm brewing in life.

“The strapline of Andy’s Man Club is ‘itsokaytotalk’, and that is so true,” Davie told Danny Longhorn. “Be you boots on ballast, drivers of trains, catering staff, or office staff, if you’re not having a great day, talk to someone and open up about how you’re feeling.

“Confide is someone. There are a lot of pressures on those working in the rail industry, but if you’re not feeling great, you should take five minutes, have a cup of tea, biscuit and open up to someone.”

Thankfully, Davie was helped through Network Rail’s Validium program.

Andy’s Man Club, which started in Halifax in Yorkshire, takes its name from Andrew Roberts, a man who sadly took his own life aged 23 in early 2016.

Richard Clinnick interviewed two professionals trying to stop suicides relating to railways. Laura Campbell, GTR’s suicide prevention manager, has herself made three interventions to stop people from taking their lives out on the tracks. “The adrenaline’s going, you know, it’s not something that’s easy to do. But the more you do it and the more you hear about other people that have done it and you think, ‘Okay well if, say, Alice, can do it, then I can do it too.’ You can’t say the wrong thing. Just go for it. And if we can just save one life, it’s worth it.”

GTR strengthened its partnership with Stevenage FC to support young people in the community, helping to combat the mental health crisis following the pandemic. The ‘Don’t Tackle It Alone’ campaign aims to encourage young people to attend Friday Kicks sporting events in their areas. The scheme is designed to offer the younger generation a support network and a safe place to meet

Research suggests that the younger generation has struggled the most with mental health during the pandemic, and so Thameslink, part of GTR, is working with this age group to support those feeling vulnerable.

“I don’t think we can ever do enough,” Laura said. “The more we talk about mental health, the better things are going to be. And it’s not necessarily about leading to something more serious – a lot of people struggle with their mental health, and we need to address this upstream before people get to crisis point. So, I think early exposure to mental health and getting people used to seeking help and talking early on is what we need to be focusing on.”

Louise McNally is Network Rail’s suicide and trespass prevention lead. She is part of the Brighter Journeys campaign, which is bringing a floral flourish to stations in an attempt to lift people’s spirits – part of wider ambitions to help those in crisis before they get to the point of seeing the railway as a way to end their life.

 “We have people with mental health concerns that are coming to the railway, and they’re not necessarily suicidal, but they are still coming to the railway as a cry for help,” she said.

“What we’re trying to do is use the Hub of Hope because a lot of people just don’t know where to go, they don’t know how to access the system.” The hub of Hope is an app that signposts users to mental health assistance. “This is hopefully providing them with that information in a really simple way and publicising it as much as we can so that they do know where to find the help that they need. It’s really important.”

Further afield, the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity had 60 cyclists competing in their three-day ‘On Yer Bike’ event, which covers 210 miles of fantastic scenery from Leitrim to Killarney in Ireland.

At the same time, the charity also had 50 people competing in their epic ‘4 Peaks’ challenge, taking on the highest mountains in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland in a 48 hour window. They scaled Ben Nevis, Scotland (1,345m), Helvellyn, Lake District, England (950m), Snowdon, Wales (1,085m) and Carrauntoohil in Ireland (1,038m).

These events were originally planned for 2020 but were cancelled due to Covid 19. So anticipation and nerves were at an all-time high as participants got ready to don cycling hats and walking boots.

Bill Hill, CEO of the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity, said, “Having to reschedule was obviously very disappointing, but the opportunity to hold these events during Mental Health Awareness week was simply too good to miss.”

Meanwhile, other parts of the railway played their part with themes that interlinked with the Brighter Journeys initiative as well as ideas of their own.

Hertford East station hosted a wildlife display and cake giveaway to brighten people’s journeys during Mental Health Awareness Week.

The New River Line Community Rail Partnership teamed up with Mudlarks charity and mental health charity, H’arts in Mind, to support passengers as part of Network Rail and the wider industry’s ‘Brighter Journeys’ campaign on 9 May.

They decorated the station concourse with a wildlife display and gave away brownies to create a warm welcome to people as they passed through.

Another example was TransPennine Express (TPE), which hosted a coffee morning at Huddersfield Station to help raise awareness of loneliness during Mental Health Awareness Week.

Customers travelling through the station were invited to pop in for free tea and coffee, as part of TPE’s partnership with the Campaign to End Loneliness, and speak to the various organisations in attendance

The rail operator, which manages the station, was also joined by Platform 1, a Huddersfield-based mental health and crisis charity that helps those with complex needs, Simon on the Streets, which offers practical and emotional support to the homeless community in West Yorkshire, and Samaritans who work tirelessly to make suicide prevention a priority.

But there is more. Work is being done to get to the roots of mental health issues relating to railway staff. You can read about that here. Meanwhile, you can learn about a new mental health organisation dedicated to rail here.

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