Friday 3 December 2021

Hauliers urged to tackle driver mental health

A recent survey has suggested that half of logistics companies have seen a rise in employee mental health issues since the UK’s exit from the EU, as HGV drivers face the triple pressures of a pre-Christmas surge in demand, Brexit-related red tape and the national shortfall.

The study, by return loads platform Haulage Exchange, found that 50 per cent of firms surveyed had seen an increase in employee stress, anxiety and other mental health issues as a result of the indirect impacts of Brexit.

The company also cited research from mental health charity Mind, which suggested that 30 per cent of self-reported, work-related illness in the transport and logistics sector was due to stress, anxiety and depression.

Other highlighted causes of strain on drivers’ mental health included shift working patterns, social isolation, the risk of seasonal affective disorder and – for female drivers – the challenges of working in a male-dominated industry.

While the government is working to ease the pressures on existing drivers and pay has increased dramatically according to estimates, Haulage Exchange emphasised the importance of ensuring that drivers receive the necessary mental health support from employers, colleagues and the wider sector, particularly as Christmas approaches.

The firm stressed that identifying the signs of mental health issues is not always easy, as sufferers often hide them beneath the surface; but with the right support they can be managed and mitigated.

“If the right help isn’t available for drivers, some elements of the job can become stressful. So it’s vital that drivers feel like they can open up about any issues, rather than keeping things bottled up,” said Luke Davies, head of sales at Transport Exchange Group, Haulage Exchange’s parent firm.

“Companies can set up a confidential hotline, introduce mental health days or provide free counselling. They can also address the link between good physical health and positive mental health, by promoting exercise and healthy diets.

“With the national shortage of drivers we’ve currently got, it’s more important than ever to retain drivers. Safeguarding their mental health is one way to make them feel valued and improve their working environment.”

Haulage Exchange cited advice from mental health experts to help drivers in this process, including around the topic of keeping active. Making time to exercise can often be a struggle, particularly when spending long hours on the road where work is almost exclusively sedentary.

Qualified mental health professional Claire Lyons (pictured, right) said: “Stress releases chemicals into your body, and one effective way to get rid of them is via exercise. You could try progressive muscle relaxation when in the cab, but not while driving. Or, add a physical activity (such as boxing, football or walking) to your weekly schedule.”

Hansa Pankhania, counsellor and member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, added: “Find places to park where you can go for a brisk walk or run, or engage in stretching exercises. Also, connecting with nature is invigorating and healing, so even better if you can plan your breaks in scenic places.”

Life on the road also has the capacity to increase loneliness, especially when overnight work is involved; and Lyons recommended setting time aside for mood-boosting activities to help mitigate this.

Said Lyons: “One brilliant stress release is to laugh. Add a few downloads of your favourite comedian, get an audiobook, meet up with that friend who always makes you laugh. Watch a comedy show, add a joke book to the cab…”

She also emphasised the importance of getting enough sleep.

“One of the quickest ways to identify stress is a change in sleep patterns,” she said.

“This is also likely if you are working longer hours. Getting high-quality sleep, so that you are rested and alert, is essential for you to remain safe while driving. What works for one person may not work for another, so investigate ideas or sleep aids.”

Pankhania (pictured, right) highlighted the benefits of maintaining a healthy working environment, meanwhile.

“Keep your vehicle clutter-free and fresh,” she suggested.

“You can also create a calm environment by adding images that you find soothing such as trees, oceans or wildlife.”

Both experts homed in on the importance of finding people to talk to, rather than letting negative thoughts fester.

Said Pankhania: “Open up about any issues that are bothering you instead of struggling to make sense of these yourself. Talking is cathartic and will highlight options for moving forward with your problems.”

Lyons added: “When we share thoughts and feelings, concerns or frustrations, with others the stress goes down.

“Getting things off your chest, even if it doesn’t change them, will help. If you feel you need more specific or professional help, don’t be afraid to reach out.”

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