This article was featured in Passenger Transport magazine on the 14th October 2016.
I’m out.. and I want the world to know
Mental health, transport, my journey and how I hope we can make
a difference - not least by taking the ‘Time to Change’ pledge
I came out recently. Not in sexual preference terms nor as a transport geek – I’m out and proud on that front, to echo Mr Stenning and Mr Bray’s recent articles. No, I came out on the not so private domain of Facebook as someone who experiences depression and anxiety. I bared my soul, orso it felt, by sharing this with my Facebook friends, some of whom work in the transport industry and may even be reading this article – and the feelings of 11 to zero, dark to light, grey clouds to sunshine. It’s not the first time I’ve mentioned and discussed ‘that’ part of me but it was a more candid explanation of why I had ‘disappeared’ from contact for several months.
“This is how it feel to be small”
In some respects, what’s the big deal? Aside from the stiff upper lip hard-wiring of the British psyche, we’re all human; we all have our down days and we all have our up days. However, we don’t all experience what, for me, can feel like being trapped in a very dark, very long tunnel at the end of which there feels as if there will never be any light ever again (though of course there is). A tunnel vision where the dread, the horror, the anxiety of getting out of bed is so extreme, you set your alarm three hours before you need to get up to put off real life beyond the duvet. When you feel so worthless and such a failure that you don’t want to spend time with friends or loved ones because you’re embarrassed – despite feeling so alone – to inflict yourself on them. And you think you’re performing terribly at work (even though you’re not) and colleagues must think you’re an ineffectual weirdo.
“The sun always shines on TV”
Before I have you weeping into your copy of Passenger Transport, I’m not trying to bring you down here – more give you a taster of how I felt for several months earlier this year. If some of what I’m saying is striking a chord with you, really, you’re not alone. One in four people experience mental health issues – this simple but hard-hitting statistic was one of the central messages of the brilliant Transport and Mental Health Summit held in February this year, as featured in Jonathan Bray’s article (PT129). It’s not a minority issue. It can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, with a variety of symptoms – from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), the spectre commonly associated with former soldiers but not only affecting them, to bipolar disorder; or anxiety so severethat it can stop people getting on a train or bus or even stepping outside their front door; or depression where to all intents and purposes, people can be highly functioning and appear to the outside world to be ‘okay’ but inside, are a helpless bundle of pain, torment and self-doubt.
“You’re not alone. One in four people experience mental health issues”
“Another brick in the wall”
That is how I often felt but life, thankfully, feels very different now (if I was still that bundle of self-doubt, I wouldn’t have been able to write
this feature, in fact to my ‘shame’, I withdrew a paper I was due to compile and present at the annual Transport Practitioners’ Meeting in June): I’m back, and back with a vengeance! Why am I sharing all of this with you and ‘coming out’ in Passenger Transport so publicly? Firstly because I have reached a stage where
I can accept rather than be angry at Winston Churchill’s proverbial ‘black dog’. Partly because I strongly believe now, as others do, that it’s nothing to be ashamed of – and the brick wall of stigma which still exists is slowly but surely being knocked down; but it still needs demolishing and doing so in the right
way. Mainly, because I want to do something meaningful to help and if I can assist even one person to feel better or help to educate one person who doesn’t experience and understand the issues, then that will make it all worthwhile. Of course, the more open we are about the issues, the more widely and properly
accepted they will be. At my own workplace, The TAS Partnership, I rather sheepishly admit that I bought into the flipside of the stigma that exists. I didn’t tell my boss for a long time about my mental health issues – partly not wanting to make mountains out of molehills but mainly because I had feared, assumed even, a certain response and finally one day when he asked me why I was visiting the doctors, I told him exactly why…
“You’re not alone”
I could have kicked myself: his response was, well, perfect – supportive, not intrusive, compassionate and understanding but not gushing. Furthermore, another TAS manager has been an absolute star: I was open and honest about this year’s bad patch with her at an early stage and she has constantly checked in with me to ask if I’m okay and if there is anything she can do to help. Her attitude from the start was ‘Yes, I have a duty of care, but I also care’ – I couldn’t ask for more.
I am also lucky enough to have a wonderful and supportive doctor who I trust; an other half and good friends who constantly check up on me when I’m in the tunnel and don’t surface, who take me out for a pint and listen or send me a virtual but well-timed hug.
“I would urge other workplaces to follow the lead if you don’t already”
“A time to change (turn… turn…)”
The TAS Partnership made a pledge following the Mental Health and Transport Summit along with others such as Reading Buses, Bus Users UK and Urban Transport Group, which you can read in the follow-up report of the summit. The pledge TAS made is twofold: to raise awareness on mental health within the TAS workplace and to encourage passenger transport providers to understand the symptoms and impacts on both staff and passengers and to act on those issues. More on that in future articles. We are this week signing up to the ‘Employer Pledge’ by the ‘Time to Change’ campaign which exists to break down the stigma around mental health. Sarah Restall, the campaign’s employer manager, is taking forward work with employers to make a significant impact on reducing stigma against mental health problems in the workplace – encouraging staff to speak openly about experiencing mental health problems and enabling people to seek support and help.
I’d urge you to dip your toe into the water by visiting their website to see if the Employer Pledge is something you feel your organisation could benefit from
(www.time-to-change.org.uk). It’s free and offers you access to a package of support from masterclasses from proactive employers on how to get staff talking about mental health to the opportunity to connect to similar employers who can answer your questions and help you progress in this area.
My first step on my journey to raise public awareness in the passenger transport sector has been made here and now on the pages of Passenger Transport and I hope to take as many people – as many operators, local authorities, combined authorities, ITAs etc – with me as possible on this road to acceptance, education and, moreover, action. So I’ll put out a call to action of my own: please do get in touch if you would like to talk further, whether to tell me what you are already doing in the passenger transport sector or tell me about your own experience, and to hopefully collaborate to make a difference – firstname.lastname@example.org
We all have our down days, but we don’t all experience what, for me, can feel like being trapped in a very dark, very long tunnel at the end of which there feels as if there will never be any light ever again
Actually, I will ask for more: I would urge other workplaces to follow the lead if you don’t already. If you don’t know about or understand the issues, then learn about them – look at the websites of Mind, Anxiety UK and the Mental Health Action Group – driving forces behind the summit who are doing sterling work to provide support and tools, engagement with government and much, much more, and who can offer information, support and training.
“Everyone’s a winner baby”
A few words of initial advice: if you do offer staff support – whether providing information, getting them to contact their GP or indeed talking to them about their issues – do stick to it and don’t pay lip service. If you can and do take steps to encourage your workers to get the tools and support they need, whether they are drivers, engineers, customer service operators, managers, senior management, directors and so on – I have every faith you will help to improve wellbeing, productivity and performance no end, in the same way that The TAS Partnership has helped me. If you take steps to remove the barriers stopping people who suffer from various illnesses and encourage them to use your services more, turn their perceived nightmare into a more positive experience (easier said than done I know), well ‘everyone’s a winner baby’.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meera Rambissoon is passionate about public transport, with five years’ experience as a transport journalist and seven years lobbying to promote bus/rail services and supportive policies. She joined The TAS Partnership in 2013, where she carries out research, analysis and project-work.