How to Support Professional Drivers with PTSD

Close-up of a hand writing on a piece of paper with a depressed soldier suffering from PTSD in the blurred background

Take a moment, if you will, to think back to the last time you had to cope with stress in the workplace. It’s highly likely that you felt anxious or maybe even afraid at the time. Equally likely though, is that you dealt with these emotions and simply resolved the situation, moved on, and became wiser from the experience.

Now, take another moment to imagine just how hard it would be to be burdened by this fear and stress for weeks, months, and even years. Many who have seen or been involved in traumatic situations and events are unable to manage stress the same way that most people can. For some, the events that they experience are so harrowing that the memories become seared into their minds for the rest of their lives.

This relatively common condition is known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. It’s possible that some drivers on your team could be fighting through a private battle that you are unaware of with this often-debilitating condition. For them, sometimes the workplace can be a very hostile and confusing environment, full of small, seemingly innocuous interactions that could trigger their PTSD.

Empathy and compassion are vital when helping these employees become and remain valuable members of your team. PTSD is very often associated with military veterans who have witnessed the extreme horrors of combat. However, anyone who has been exposed to a traumatic event can suffer from PTSD. For example, people who have dealt with an injury, disaster, accident, or sexual or physical abuse can experience PTSD.

It is particularly common for someone who has been involved in or seen a violent road accident to experience symptoms. Considering around a third or more of truckers will be involved in a violent road accident during their careers, PTSD is a significant risk for truckers. Some people may suffer from symptoms for weeks or months, while others may suffer for years or even permanently. In this article, you will learn about what PTSD is and how you can support your drivers with PTSD.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a very serious condition that often occurs after a person has witnessed or experienced an extremely traumatic event. In fact, according to the National Center for PTSD, around six percent of the US population will suffer from it at one point in their lifetime.

Right now, PTSD affects roughly 5.2 million American adults every year. It is important to note the distinction between PTSD and normal responses to trauma. Many people experience some form of trauma in their lives, often more than once. However, those who develop PTSD can suffer from depression, severe distress, and even anxiety which can last from months to several years. These symptoms can appear immediately after a trauma, or they can take months or years to develop.

People with PTSD are in Our Workforces

Many people in the workforce, both veterans and otherwise, are working and living with PTSD daily. As an employer or HR professional, it is vital to learn how to both support and manage people who are living with PTSD. As a carrier, this can help you attract and retain quality drivers and increase productivity.

Understand the Symptoms and the Accommodations Needed

Understanding the symptoms of PTSD and some of the ways that you can support and accommodate team members who are dealing with these symptoms is of the utmost importance. Some of the symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor memory
  • Stress
  • Absenteeism
  • Lateness
  • Trouble with personal interactions

Some of the ways management staff can help support team members dealing with these symptoms include the following:

    • Difficulty concentrating: If your driver is having trouble concentrating, try offering them resources to help like mediation, mindfulness, or other practices that can improve concentration.
    • Poor memory: Work with your driver in order to find what methods work best for them when keeping on track with their work. Try using calendars, lists, electronic reminders, or whatever helps them work best.
    • Stress: Ask your driver if they require anything specific to manage their stress and avoid any triggers.
    • Absenteeism and lateness: Some people dealing with PTSD often struggle to keep the same schedule as other members. Try to allow them to work with a flexible schedule that works for all parties when possible.
  • Trouble with personal interactions: Encourage your driver to leave any conversations or discussions if they begin to become triggered or find the conversation difficult.

The Bottom Line

Talk to your drivers. Let them know that your organization understands that some team members may have issues like PTSD that require special treatment or accommodations, and that you would like to help and support anyone who may need assistance. Talking about these issues helps to break down the stigma against them and will make your team feel more comfortable reaching out for help.

In turn, you will have an opportunity to increase driver trust and retain and empower quality drivers who may otherwise have struggled. If your driver is comfortable with this, managers may consider letting the rest of the team know about their condition. In this case, you should also consider offering your team training on how to deal with a co-worker who has PTSD. All of these approaches will help you offer a more inclusive and productive work environment which will help you attract and retain your best people.

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, ACSW, NCAC II, DOT Qualified SAP Mr. Winegar is the Chief Clinical Officer of ESPYR, a Marietta, Georgia based behavioral health company. Mr. Winegar has over 30 years of professional experience in the mental health field. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a nationally Certified Employee Assistance Professional, a U.S. Department of Transportation Qualified Substance Abuse Professional, and a Nationally Certified Addictions Counselor, Level II. Mr. Winegar is a member of the Society for Human Resources Management, the National Association of Social Workers, and the Employee Assistance Professionals Association. He has been a Member of the National Academy of Certified Social Workers for over 25 years. A published author of four books and numerous articles concerning behavioral healthcare, Mr. Winegar is a frequent presenter at professional conferences and meetings. Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP| Chief Clinical Officer Espyr 1850 Parkway Place Suite 700 Marietta GA 30067