The attention given to mental health and wellbeing issues, particularly in the workplace, is increasing. However, the impact that the road transport industry can have on the mental health of its workforce, and the impact that mental health can have on driving behaviour, are neither well understood nor well documented.
One in six of us will experience symptoms of common mental health disorders in any given week.[i] Commercial drivers are at higher risk of developing poor mental health as a result of the working conditions commonly experienced in this industry, such as long and irregular shift hours; increased pressure of just-in-time deliveries; high demands for continuous mental alertness and high work–life conflict.
There is a need for a revolution in the way that mental health issues are dealt with in the road transport industry. Operational practices that are leading to higher prevalence of poor mental health are not sustainable.
This problem is made worse by the fact that few people seek any sort of professional support, often due to the stigma still attached to discussing mental health – particularly among men, who make up the majority of the driving industry.
Our work at TRL has identified that mental health difficulties also have a direct impact on driving behaviour, with common conditions such as anxiety, stress and depression increasing the risk of committing errors, lapses and violations on the road. We therefore have a workforce comprised of people who are more likely to develop poor mental health as a result of their working environment, impacting their safety as a driver, and who are more likely to live with poor mental health for longer due to the barriers that they perceive to seeking support.
While this may seem like a morose outlook, our work has also highlighted some flagship organisations that are working very hard to reduce the stigma around mental health. Unfortunately though, dedication like this is the exception rather than the rule. We believe that there is a need for a revolution in the way that mental health issues are dealt with in the road transport industry. Operational practices that are leading to higher prevalence of poor mental health are not sustainable; an organisation’s practices may make sense in terms of a business case, but are they really optimal if they are leading to higher rates of poor mental health and riskier driving behaviour?
We all need to work towards breaking down the stigma still attached to mental health, and work together to make mental health a part of day-to-day conversation, not a confrontational and sensitive topic. Only by talking to those working within this industry, listening to what they have to say and acting on what is heard can we start to create a healthier working environment and ensure that those who are driving to provide us with services are doing so in the safest way for themselves, and for other road users.
[i] McManus, S. et al (2014), Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult psychiatric morbidity survey 2014