Mental illness is costing the country £66.5 billion every year and better transport journeys can help, according to new report

  • New research reveals mental illness 'blackspots;' in in English regions, with almost 1 in 5 adults in the South-West and North-West suffering from common mental disorders
  • London City Airport says that better transport infrastructure and services including the way that rail stations and airports are designed - can play a critical role in improving people’s mental wellbeing
Improving the way people travel and their experience at rail stations, airports and on roads, could play a significant role in improving their mental wellbeing, a new study commissioned by London City Airport reveals. The report also provides new estimates of the cost of poor mental health in different parts of England.

The London City Airport report, Building better: the role of transport infrastructure and services in improving mental health, authored by a former Treasury economist, uses NHS Digital data to assess the prevalence and cost of mental health disorders in different English regions. The findings reveal:

As well as the significant impact on those individuals with mental health conditions, there is an annual cost of poor mental health to both public services and businesses in England.
  • £66.5 billion is the cost to the economy, for example, due to sickness related absences and more people quitting their job due to poor mental health
  • £20 billion of the cost is due to the strain on public services, 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 £12 billion every year from lost economic output. The English regions with the highest cost to the economy from 16-74 year-olds suffering from a mental health condition are:
  • Greater London: £12 billion
  • North West: £10 billion
  • South East: £9 billion
  • South West: £8 billion

The report highlights three key areas where improvements in transport services could make a tangible difference to mental health for millions of people:
  1. Better journeys: reducing delays, cancellations, anti-social behaviour and overcrowding, and keeping passengers well-informed when there is disruption
  2. Better design: minimising noise, increasing natural light and making it easier to navigate around stations and airports are major factors contributing to people’s mental wellbeing
  3. Better accessibility and support: passengers with hidden disabilities, travellers with specific conditions such as Alzheimer’s, or those suffering from suicidal feelings, need tailored support which can be improved with staff training
Robert Sinclair, chief executive of London City Airport, said: “Mental ill health is a complex issue with many contributing factors, but we commissioned this study to look at this national health problem through the lens we know best - transport. This study shows that improving and investing in the country’s transport infrastructure could play a key role in improving the wellbeing of millions of people travelling across England.

“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.”

Aviation Minister Liz Sugg said: “The Government wants to ensure the wellbeing of everyone boarding a plane, and is committed to improving accessibility for passengers at every stage of their journey.

“It’s fantastic to see action being taken by industry and, through our Aviation 2050 Consultation, we will continue working to remove barriers discouraging people with hidden disabilities from travelling by air.”

Andy McDonald MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, said: “I commend this report which highlights the significant role enhanced transport infrastructure and services can play in improving mental health across the UK. As well as increased investment and better design, the transport system needs to be properly staffed to ensure those passengers and travellers with hidden disabilities can be fully supported in making their journeys.”

Gillian Connor, head of policy and partnerships at Rethink Mental Illness said: “Life can be stressful. The increasing pressure on our transport infrastructure can leave many of us feel 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.

“The importance of good mental wellbeing is an issue that we have all woken up to in the last few years and it is encouraging to see action being considered across society. Thoughtful approaches and small changes in our transport systems could make a huge difference to our wellbeing and we look forward to seeing how this develops further.”

London Deputy Mayor for Business Rajesh Agrawal said: “One in four Londoners will experience mental health problems during their lifetime so improving their health and happiness is a priority for everyone who cares about the wellbeing of those living in our city. “It’s important that all communities feel able to speak openly about their mental health and the support they need, and that’s why the Mayor is working hard through his Thrive LDN programme to remove stigma, tackle inequalities and raise awareness of the importance of good mental health.”

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 1 in 5 adults report suffering from a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder and phobias.