The railway industry has a long record of volunteering and fundraising and now we have come together in the Million Hour Challenge – a five-year project which is encouraging our staff to donate their time, energy and skills to help Samaritans in their vital work.
The campaign is very simple – we are aiming to provide one million hours of volunteering by March 2024, and raise £2.5 million over the same period.
We hope that this will not only help Samaritans as they cope with increasing demand for their services, but will also be of real benefit for the mental health of all of us working in railways as we volunteer our time, not least by encouraging us to talk with each other, and the wider community, about the issues involved.
Mental health is of particular concern in the rail industry, where the rate of suicide in the workforce is 1.6 times higher than the UK average, and 60% of workers have experienced mental health issues. By talking about it more we can reduce the taboo, change our culture and make it acceptable that many of us have mental health issues.
The rail industry is working hard to attract a more diverse workforce but currently it remains quite male-dominated and that can, in some cases, help to perpetuate the outdated belief that expressing feelings and demonstrating emotion is a sign of weakness, making it much harder for those in distress to speak up and seek help.
Our hope is that as more and more colleagues get involved in volunteering this attitude will fade away and we will come to terms with the idea that mental health is as important as physical health.