Some not-so-affectionately coin it as “the most depressing time of the year.” The weeks that follow on the heels of the festive holiday season – when the mornings are dark, the nights are darker, and day after day seems depressively dreary and gray – can be an undeniable challenge, one that some people struggle with more than others.
The feelings of sadness, increased appetite, irritability and low energy can all be attributed to the Winter Blues, which is more formally known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. About 5 per cent of adults in the U.S. experience SAD and it typically lasts about 40 per cent of the year.
Truck drivers, who routinely face isolation on the road, long hours, irregular rest, and oftentimes suffer from chronic sleep disturbances and poor diets, might be even more prone to experiencing seasonal depression.
And this is a cause for concern; the symptoms of SAD can be overwhelming, making it hard for professional drivers to function “normally” – let alone safely operate their rig.
To keep your drivers healthy and prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder from wreaking havoc on their mental health, here are some steps you can take as an employer:
Don’t Ignore Mental Health – Keep the Conversation Going
Mental health problems affect many employees, and yet, it remains a topic that’s often swept under the rug, making it challenging for those who are suffering from it to seek out help.
The numbers speak for themselves. According to this article in Harvard Business Review, despite the fact that over 200 million workdays are lost due to mental health conditions each year, mental health remains a taboo subject. In fact, almost 60 per cent of employees have never spoken about it to anyone at work.
As an employer, you have a responsibility to be an advocate for mental health and remove the stigmas attached to it. Set the tone for transparency by sharing your own struggles with mental health, and encourage others in leadership positions to do the same. This opens the door to normalizing mental health issues and helps to set the tone for a healthier, happier work environment.
Encourage the Use of Tools and Supportive Resources and Raise Company-Wide Awareness
While many workplaces offer their drivers Employee Assistance Programs that help employees with personal problems and/or work-related problems that may impact their job performance, health, mental and emotional well-being, there continues to be low usage rates; only about 10 per cent of employees take advantage of the programs that are in place for them.
While these programs are crucial and provide an important tool to promote mental well-being, many feel these programs are not being used to their advantage for a number of reasons. For starters, there’s a great number of employees that don’t even know a company EAP program exists. Ensure you’re sending out regular communication to your drivers letting them know about the resources that are available to them and encourage them to make use of these programs.
Promote Work/Life Balance
Finding a proper work/life balance is a monumental challenge.
As an employer, it’s crucial to encourage your drivers to find equilibrium. Obvious benefits to your current drivers aside, some say even say finding a way to improve the work/life balance for a driver is the key to unlocking the door to the next generation of drivers.
Here are some ways drivers can work to achieve a more balanced lifestyle that prioritizes mental health, especially at this time of the year.
1. Stay physical. Truck driving is a sedentary job, so it’s vital to prioritize exercise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults should aim for 150 minutes per week of physical activity. Think activities such as brisk walking, jogging/running and muscle-building exercises.
2. Create a Schedule to Connect with Loved Ones. Encourage drivers to set aside time to connect with their family while they’re on the road. Video chats, phone calls, and apps allow drivers to feel a sense of connectedness, even when they’re away.
3. Stay Entertained. Life on the road can be lonely, and as beautiful as the scenery might be, the miles can stretch on…and on. Encourage drivers to find an entertaining podcast or audiobook that helps to entertain and pass the time. If you’re feeling generous, consider gifting an iTunes or Spotify subscription, or a subscription to an audiobook service such as Audible.
4. Make Plans for Home Time. Encourage your drivers to plan activities during home time. Whether it’s a hobby or planning a fun family outing, having something to plan and look forward to can help ease anxiety and sadness.
Educate Safety Directors About the Importance of Mental Health
Mental health and safety are directly connected, so it’s important your company’s safety directors are educated.
Mental health is correlated to increased fatigue, trouble focusing and increased risky behaviors such as substance abuse, so it’s crucial your company’s safety directors are educated and know how to recognize the signs and indicators of mental health problems and mental distress.
If a driver causes an accident because they do not have all of their mental faculties, all injured victims “deserve to recover the maximum amount possible for their loss,” explains one U.S.-based law firm.
Seek out training courses to ensure your support team is prepped to help your drivers when they need it or have them reach out to local organizations for resources and tips.
Mental Health is Everyone’s Responsibility
January blues, depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), however, you choose to describe it, no one should struggle alone. The impact of issues related to mental health can affect everyone: your drivers, your team, your clients, and even the public. For this reason, mental health issues should be acknowledged and dealt with by providing a safe environment to discuss problems and making support available to your team.
Your efforts won’t prevent or stop mental health issues from happening, but they can go a long way to helping others cope with them and find relief.