The impacts of mental health on everyday travel

By Guest Blogger,
Men and women pose on bench with bicycles

People with mental health conditions who do not have the confidence to leave home can be encouraged through training and by being told about ‘safe places’

road with various transport mode users

Image credit: ©2018, Jonathan Bewley

Cyclists of different abilities on a traffic-free path

Image credit: ©2018, Jonathan Bewley

Roger Mackett is Emeritus Professor of Transport Studies at University College London, where he carries out research into the barriers to travel for older and disabled people.

He is a member of Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) which advises the Department for Transport on accessibility issues for disabled people and chairs the Transport Working Group of the Age Action Alliance. In this blog, he talks about research into the factors that make travelling with a mental health condition difficult including the survey that he has carried out. 

Learning disabilities usually develop at birth and affect a person for the duration of their life. While cognitive impairments often appear later, some gradually, such as dementia, and others suddenly, as a result of brain injury. In addition to these, behavioural conditions like autism and mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and agoraphobia can all have an impact on the skills required to use the transport system.

People with mental impairments make fewer journeys than the rest of the population, with some of them not going out at all. This is because they can lack the confidence to travel or have concerns about the attitudes of other people. The cost of travel can be another issue, as many people with mental impairments have low incomes because they are unable to access suitable employment.

According to Public Health England, over a quarter of the population has been diagnosed with a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression. While the nature and the extent of mental health challenges are becoming better understood, the implications of these challenges for people wishing to engage in everyday activities are more difficult to comprehend. Transport is one of the areas where we are trying to understand the complex implications of mental health conditions and come up with solutions that improve accessibility.

Having a mental health condition affects how people travel. This is because those suffering may feel anxiety or concerned about finding their way, getting lost or having to interact with bus drivers and fellow travellers. This can reduce their confidence, whether walking, cycling or taking the bus and train.

People with mental health conditions who do not have the confidence to leave home can be encouraged through training and by being told about ‘safe places’ where they can ask for help from staff if necessary. Information such as this, may enable them to go out for walks and can be further encouraged by clearer signposting and less clutter on the streets, making it easier for them to find their way.

In addition, cycling can be encouraged through schemes like Positive Spin which enable people with dementia and their carers in Lambeth and Haringey to cycle. The Active in Dundee project also offers cycle try-out sessions for adults with mental health conditions in two weekly classes.

To coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, at the Centre for Transport Studies at University College London, we are carried out a survey into the factors that make travelling with a mental health condition difficult. 

This blog is partly based on research described in ‘Building Confidence – Improving travel for people with mental impairments’, a report for the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) which advises the UK Department for Transport (DfT) on accessibility issues relating to disabled people.

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