The Role of Mental Health in Professional Driver Talent Management

The transportation industry is one of many industries where employee mental health is becoming a growing concern.  Espyr’s Chief Clinical Officer, Norman Winegar, recently participated in an HR/Talent Management roundtable discussion at Accelerate Conference and Expo sponsored by Women in Trucking.  Mr. Winegar documented his discussion points in the byline article below.  While the roundtable was specific to professional drivers, Mr. Winegar’s observations and recommendations could apply to employee mental health in virtually any industry.

The Role of Mental Health in Talent Management

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, ACSW, NCAC II, DOT Qualified SAP

Few people in the transportation industry would argue with the statement that professional driving can be a very unhealthy occupation.  Physically, the long hours sitting behind the wheel, lack of exercise (or for many OTR drivers little physical movement at all) and easy access to unhealthy food and drinks all take their toll on driver health.

Truck driver smoking and eating fast food

However, what often goes unnoticed is the condition of professional driver mental health.  The professional driver lifestyle – social isolation, the cumulative stress associated with safely handling an 80,000 pound vehicle through traffic, separation from family and the related issues that extended family separation creates – can lead to serious mental health conditions.  The severity of those mental health conditions is obvious in statistics like these:

  • 6 percent of truckers suffer from some level of depression, nine times higher than the national average.
  • Trucking is one of the top eight occupations for suicide according to the CDC.

Loneliness is a big challenge for drivers.  Some studies report that drivers say that loneliness is their main source of distress. Loneliness can lead to many unhealthy behaviors including premature death.  Referring to loneliness in general, the American Psychological Association has stated that loneliness is just as much of a public health hazard as obesity, it not greater.  Can there be an occupation that encounters more loneliness?

Those that need help most may not ask for it

What makes mental health conditions more challenging for employers – and more costly – is the fact that more than half of those with mental health issues won’t seek treatment. One of the primary reasons? Employees often stay quiet due to the stigma of mental health and concern that co-workers or supervisors will think poorly of them.

The transportation industry needs to focus more on the behavioral health aspects of driver well-being.  Here are three steps to take now:

  1. Remove the stigma of mental health. This starts at the top with C-level executives and the company culture. Drivers need to know that seeking care for mental health issues is not a sign of weakness.
  2. Educate managers on how to recognize the warning signs of mental health disorders and how to reach out to the affected person. Make sure that they know what to do when they encounter those warning signs with their drivers including connecting them with their Employee Assistance Program.
  3. Make mental well-being care easily accessible. Take advantage of your EAP and other wellness programs and ensure drivers know the confidential benefits that are available.

About Espyr

Espyr is a leader in mental health solutions, offering employers a variety of innovative products designed to maximize human and organizational potential. One of those solutions is Fit to Pass.  Fit to Pass is a coaching program that helps professional drivers achieve a healthier lifestyle.  The program intensifies for the 90 day period prior to a driver’s DOT physical exam, helping drivers pass their exam, retain their CDL and live longer, healthier lives.

To learn more about Fit to Pass or how Espyr’s employee well-being solutions can help you improve talent management in your organization, call us at 888-570-3479 or click here.