There’s no doubt about it: Professional drivers face some challenging and stressful circumstances, both of which impact driver mental health. Most days, they’re on the road, battling traffic, handling complex safety issues, and, in many cases, going it alone.
All of these factors can contribute to stress and burnout, but the last factor may be most significant. Time alone — and specifically, loneliness — can have a major impact on a driver’s overall health, impacting both physical health and mental health.
This is worth paying special attention to. Mental health issues are pervasive among those in the trucking industry, and when a driver’s mental health is in jeopardy, it can have dangerous effects, contributing to both unsafe driving and suicidal tendencies. Ultimately, these struggles not only put the driver at risk, but those around him or her as well.
As we recognize Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s take a few minutes to talk about the dangers of loneliness and how trucking carriers can help drivers develop habits that can positively impact mental health.
When you think about risk factors for serious health conditions, factors such as smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, a lack of quality sleep, and a poor diet probably come to mind. But did you know that loneliness is also a significant risk factor?
In recent years, studies have shown that loneliness and social isolation can actually be as significant a health risk as smoking in some situations. A 2015 study, in fact, found that a lack of social connection increases health risk as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
While loneliness has an impact on your physical health, its effects on mental health are also potent.
Feeling alone and being socially isolated, particularly in those age 45 and older, can put a person at an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
It’s not an isolated issue either — in a 2018 study, more than half of the 20,000 American adults surveyed reported “sometimes or always feeling alone.”
The issue is magnified when a person truly is alone, separated from loved ones and friends. That’s the situation faced by drivers, and why loneliness is such a danger in the role.
While the very nature of truck driving means that there will be stretches of time spent on the road and alone, loneliness and mental health issues do not have to be the result. Trucking carriers can take steps to support their drivers and provide them with resources to help them manage their feelings.
Promoting effective communication to and from drivers is an important first step.
“Routine communication is a way for companies to keep a close eye on how drivers are doing mentally,” says Katie Love, Marketing Manager at WorkHound. “But it has to be a habit, and it has to be consistent. You can’t expect drivers to open up and share their vulnerabilities right away. Trust is critical to knowing resources exist.”
Even more important than simply creating an open feedback channel, companies must also truly listen and engage with the raw and honest feedback drivers are providing.
“Being receptive to their communication is just as important,” Love says. “If drivers are willing to share feedback about what’s troubling them or even simply that they’re lonely, companies need to pay attention and do the work needed to find ways to alleviate the concerns they’re experiencing.”
How can companies take that step? It all boils down to helping drivers find ways to incorporate security, rest, and joy into their routines. That will look different for every company — and really, a little unique for every driver.
These ideas are a good place to begin:
No matter what items you incorporate into your company’s policies surrounding driver mental health, the biggest takeaway we have for you is this: A little can really go a long way. When a person feels considered and valued, they’re much less likely to feel alone. And if they do begin to feel the negative effects of loneliness, they’re much more likely to express those feelings. So start the conversation. It’s as easy as that.
And while it feels good to do good, we also know that driver mental health services make a positive impact on business, too.
For example, the CDC has reported that mental health disorders negatively affect employee job performance and productivity, focus on work, communication with coworkers, as well as, physical capability and daily functioning. With 71% of adults reporting at least one symptom of stress, it’s worth it for your people and your business to invest in mental health resources that allow for proactive care.
Looking to offer a safe space for your drivers to communicate? Sign up for a free demo to learn how WorkHound can help!
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