EDMONTON, Alta. – As the world stays at home to curb the spread of Covid-19, truck drivers continue under greater pressures and isolation both inside and outside the cab.
Under normal circumstances, professional truck drivers suffer from mental health issues more so than most other occupations.
And during a worldwide crisis like Covid-19 pandemic, the emotional impact on drivers must not be forgotten.
Kolbi Kukurba, project and public relations manager for the Alberta division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, pointed out that for the time being, truck drivers may be driven by the “altruism of their role” during this worldwide crisis.
But as time goes on, and the world gets back to normal once there is a better handle on this pandemic, that could change.
“Initially, the mental health challenges faced by truck drivers will be similar to the general population in regard to increased and prolonged stress related to concerns about infection or passing infection to others,” said Kukurba. “Truckers and the food supply chain play a key role in this pandemic and responses to the needs of Canadians. Demands on their time, health, and relationships based on increased activity and the real need to keep the economy moving will take a toll post-pandemic on many individuals and industries that play an essential role in the toughest days of the pandemic.”
The very nature of the driving profession accounts for increased feelings of isolation, loneliness, and depression.
Prior to the Covid-19 response, during the Safety Driven – Trucking Safety Council of B.C. Speaker Series in Prince George, B.C., last December, Cathy Cook, president of Safe Harbour Consulting, underscored that psychological disorders and mental health issues are more prevalent in the trucking industry than in the general public.
“Mental health problems affect everyone, it does not discriminate,” said Cook, adding that in Canada on any given day there are 500,000 people who are unable to work due to a mental health issue.
Citing a recent survey, Cook said 75% of those in trucking feel their work is too stressful, and 71% say the same thing about their lives in general.
“We need to treat mental health the same way we treat physical health to make a safe workplace,” said Cook.
Trucking poses several risk factors when it comes to mental, as well as physical health issues.
Long driving shifts, disrupted sleep patterns, social isolation, and delivery urgency all create health issues, such as sleep apnea, obesity, diabetes, drug and alcohol abuse, and psychological problems.
These risk factors, for many hauling essential goods during the Covid-19 pandemic, have intensified.
And though we cannot dismiss this possibility and the potential for an increase in mental health issues with drivers in the coming months following the coronavirus response, Kukurba said the general public can learn from the trucking industry.
“Truck drivers already understand many of the challenges faces by isolation in their profession,” he said. “They may in fact be able to shed light and give tips to the general population about maintaining mental health when isolated.”
During this time of increased need and pressures on the industry, drivers are still expected to adhere to social and health practices that reduce the risk of contracting or passing on the Covid-19 virus.
This, Kukurba said, includes getting adequate sleep to replenish themselves both physically and mentally.
“Mental health practices such as mindfulness and talk therapy can happen while on the road through the use of telephone applications and video-conferencing platforms,” said Kukurba. “Truckers can acknowledge the limitations of their profession and identify in advance of a crisis the steps they would take if they became concerned about their wellbeing.”
Kukurba said trucking companies should provide drivers with necessary support, including emergency numbers should a they need to address a mental health concern, regardless of where they are.
“Canadians are learning to use many means to stay in touch and connect even when in-person interactions are not possible,” he said. “These adaptations are all transferrable to professions that require solitary and remote work.”
Kukurba urges drivers who may be experiencing feelings of isolation, loneliness, or depression to reach out and not try to get through it on their own.
“Get help as soon as possible and let someone know you are seeking help,” Kukurba said, recommending to talk to a manager or utilize sick days and benefits packages. “If those things don’t exist, start with a visit to your family physician and prioritize talking about your mental health concerns in the first few minutes of your visit.”
Anyone seeking mental health support can call 211 in Alberta or the mental health help line at 1-877-303-2642.
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