Highway Mind: Correcting Course on Mental Health

Dangerous traffic. Chronic stress. Empty passenger seats. And way, way too much time to think. When you’re a driver in the trucking industry, it’s all part of the job. Over time, though, these strains can take a heavy toll on the mind.

The risk of developing mental health issues in the trucking field is high — leaving many drivers debilitated, unsafe at the wheel, or with suicidal tendencies. If left untreated, mental illness can pose significant threats to more parties than just the driver. Other drivers, pedestrians, the truck, and even the cargo are at risk as well. The damage in these circumstances is astronomical for everyone involved.

Strap In for the Long Run

As a company, you can help steer your drivers to safety. Putting resources in place to help protect your workers is not only responsible, but it’s also smart business. According to estimates from a recent World Health Organization-led study on mental health, depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion each year in lost productivity.

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In addition to safeguarding against damages and inspiring productivity, it’s an employee retention opportunity in a perennially competitive hiring market. You have everything to gain by making your company more amenable to drivers — especially in the arena of mental health.

So what are the best ways to take action? Above all else, you want to take time to explore the mental health tools and options available for drivers. But before you swing into problem-solving mode, you need a firm grip on the issue at hand — the stressors, the risks, and the underlying needs that cause them. These insights should form the basis of your approach.

Know the Mind Behind the Wheel

The complexities of life on the road are myriad. The isolation of extended days and weeks behind the wheel leaves many drivers feeling deeply alone. The monotony of the highway can be numbing on the one hand, while the dangers of traffic and blind spots can spike anxiety on the other. On top of that, drivers often witness a greater number of major accidents than the average person. And some have been in critical accidents themselves. The trauma of these experiences can be particularly damaging to a driver’s stability.

“PTSD is an ongoing risk in this line of work,” said Katie Love, Customer Success Manager at WorkHound. “Accidents involving injury and death are extremely shocking events to witness or experience directly. Drivers may develop obsessive fears or flashbacks while having to remain on the road for prolonged periods of time.”

Another challenge for drivers is the amount of time they must spend away from home. This makes maintaining relationships difficult for some. Time spent with family and friends is often inadequate, perpetuating the sense of loneliness many already feel while isolated in their trucks. For some drivers, the ripple effects can be far-reaching.

Employers: Reach Out and Listen

As a company, the single most important thing you can do to support drivers struggling with mental health is to make a connection.

“Stigmas around the topic of mental health can make it very difficult for workers to admit when they’re struggling, even in ‘open door policy‘ cultures,” said Love. “But when employers proactively and consistently communicate about the issue, drivers start realizing they’re not alone in their experiences and are thus more likely to seek help.”

Another way to make employees more comfortable expressing their mental health needs is to provide them with an anonymous way to do so, suggested Love.

“At WorkHound, our company feedback platform is designed to facilitate sensitive conversations like these,” she explained. “It’s also a great way to gain insight into potential changes you can make internally that would better accommodate employees’ mental health needs while making them safer on the road.”

Some of those changes might include:

  • Implementing an emergency phone line that allows drivers to call trained professionals for support when they need someone to confide in on the road
  • Adjusting your insurance policy to provide coverage for remote therapy sessions
  • Providing workers with their schedules far enough in advance so that it’s easier for them to arrange quality time with family and friends
  • Amending your bereavement policy so employees have adequate time to travel for funerals and experience necessary grieving with loved ones
  • Offer the opportunity to bring companions on the road: family, friends, or pets
  • Creating physical spaces that encourage social interaction for drivers when they are in the office environment
  • Being more receptive to drivers’ needs for time off
  • Allowing drivers to use PTO in some of the locations they travel for work or providing a stipend for their vacation time
  • Offer assistance for self-care routines, such as gym memberships, a massage, or even necessary hygiene practices, like a hair cut at a barber

Most importantly, remember to listen closely and be responsive as ever. Drivers know what they come up against on the road better than anyone, which makes them excellent partners in tackling this problem. And be sure not to wait to take action or communicate updates. Drivers who reach out with mental health concerns and assume they’re going unacknowledged will take note — and potentially seek employment elsewhere. But when employees feel valued and that their needs are being taken seriously, especially on the topic of health, it makes a real difference. And ultimately, driver safety and company safety always go hand-in-hand.

WorkHound provides an easy-to-use feedback platform that gives employees a voice. If you’re ready to learn how using our tool could improve the feedback culture at your business or organization, request a demo today.