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Staff at risk from undiagnosed PTSD

RSSB is raising awareness about the risk of not properly treating railway staff who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

While RSSB recognises a growing understanding within the industry around mental health, there was still a risk that many staff members who have experienced a traumatic event weren’t receiving the support they needed.

A survey of 700 frontline railway staff found that almost 95 per cent had experienced workplace abuse in the past year. More than 25 per cent had also experienced some kind of physical assault and 30 per cent said they received verbal abuse every single day.

In addition to these pressures, most frontline staff can expect to experience some kind of traumatic incident during their career. Almost 300 members of the public died on the railway in 2017-18 and railway staff are very often among the first people at the scene.

Witnessing these sorts of incidents can lead to mental health issues such as PTSD, depression and anxiety for some people. In these situations employees may be given time off and/or directed to treatment.

RSSB has produced a video which tells the stories of train driver Michael Setchell and station staff worker Mick Carney; both men developed PTSD following traumatic incidents at work.

Mick explained how he developed PTSD following an incident in 1996 when he was tied up and held at gunpoint while at work.

Mick said: “The first time round there was a lot of shock, a lot of flashbacks, nervousness going out for a while. I sort of took myself away from the situation; went home and stayed there for about eight or nine weeks. I couldn’t really face coming back.”

Both men praised the help they received from colleagues and the way they were supported back to work.

RSSB’s mental wellbeing specialist, Michelle O’Sullivan, said: “Everyone will respond to a traumatic experience differently. For some, returning to work shortly after the incident may feel best, for others more time and targeted support may be needed. With access to the right treatment and support, the majority will recover and be able to return to work.

“PTSD is a medical condition which changes the individual’s brain chemistry, leaving people struggling to process traumatic events. It can affect memory, concentration, sleep, social interactions, all of which could impact someone in the workplace. But PTSD is a treatable condition, and there are steps companies can take to ensure cases can be detected and remedied sensitively.”


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