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TTC takes steps to better serve commuters dealing with mental health concerns

Last Updated Nov 15, 2017 at 7:07 pm EDT

While most TTC riders are all too familiar with a frustrating commute, for those dealing with mental health issues, riding the rocket can sometimes mean compounded feelings of anxiety and stress.

The TTC is now taking steps to better serve that group by providing mental health awareness training to some of their staff. To that end, workshops are being held in collaboration with Progress Place, a community based mental health recovery centre.

“We do hear stories from our members that come in and might have had some frustration on the TTC,” says Criss Habal, Executive Director of Progress Place.

“People don’t always understand if someone is asking questions, or trying to figure out where they are, or if they are having anxiety or maybe talking to themselves trying to figure it out,” she says.

Progress Place has helped train more than 120 TTC staff members including special constables, enforcement officers, wheel-trans operators and even customer services representatives who staff their call centre.

“We get calls from people who are highly anxious, struggling with the crowds, or having trouble finding their way,” says Kirsten Walker, a Change Management Consultant with the TTC’s wheel-trans program.

She says the training is especially relevant now that the program eligibility has changed to include riders with cognitive, mental health, and sensory disabilities.

“It’s giving people on the other side of  the phone the tools to be able to calm them down, understand their questions, or concerns and help them the right way,” she says.

The workshops use real life scenarios and offer stories from Progress Place members who share their experiences dealing with distress on the TTC. The training also gives staff tangible tips on how to react to common situations, like an angry or aggressive rider.

“You can say, ‘I’m really interested in hearing what you have to say, but it’s hard when you’re raising your voice,’” says Habal. “As you notice, I’m not saying, ‘stop yelling’. The first thing is trying to empathize.”

Habal says with so many different types of people passing through the TTC every day, she believes the training could help save a life.

“Sometimes they are very sad and depressed, they might contemplate suicide… that’s an area we want to make sure people have as much support and training as possible.”