The Sleeper's Blog

01.04.16

Mental health at the heart of rail travel

It’s a momentous day for West Coast staff and commuters alike: Virgin Trains has kicked off a partnership with the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) to increase awareness of mental health and wellbeing amongst customers and employees, including through staff training.

The move comes after a vote amongst the operator’s 3,400 WC staff highlighted mental health and suicide as major social issues of concern, alongside homelessness, loneliness and cyber-bullying. They also handpicked MHF themselves.

In practice, the partnership will push Virgin Trains to focus its business agenda, community activities and fundraising on mental health, including local activities to promote it and joint campaigning with MHF. At corporate level, employees will also undergo staff development and training on the issue.

Simarjeet Kaur, head of responsible business at Virgin Trains, stressed that mental health affects everyone and hoped that, by getting involved, “we can help to increase understanding of mental health and start to address some of the stigma associated with it”.

The unfortunate and historical stigma runs through every aspect of mental health – both social and financial. For example, mental health only takes up around 10% of NHS resources at present, despite accounting for around 22% of the burden of disease, according to shadow mental health minister Luciana Berger MP. This means mental health gets just £11bn of a whopping total of £120bn invested in the health service.

The operator’s trailblazing move should hopefully set the standard for other TOCs to join the debate, particularly by campaigning to raise awareness of an issue that so deeply affects the nation’s wellbeing.

Jenny Edwards CBE, chief exec at MHF, also praised the operator: “Their commitment to promoting the emotional wellbeing of their staff and customers is to be applauded. That such an important company, and a household name, is committed to putting mental health at the heart of its business reflects the increasing importance and awareness of the need to promote good mental health for all. This is crucial because we know there is a strong link between a good working environment and sustaining good mental health.

“It’s fantastic that the partnership will work with staff, supply chains, customers and communities. We are looking forward to reaching millions of people across the network while developing our wider charitable objectives through the opportunities and direct support Virgin Trains is able to offer us.”

The partnership will officially launch a major string of activity during Mental Health Awareness Week, taking place 16-22 May. This year, this will focus primarily on the theme of relationships and connection.

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