Veterans from over 500,000 US troops have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over the last 16 years. This can make adjusting to civilian life very difficult for many people as they rejoin the workforce, and employers must take care to look out for the mental health of ex-service personnel. PTSD can manifest in many ways and can be triggered by a number of factors, but a common trigger is driving. Being mindful of this and ensuring procedures are in place to support those with PTSD is, therefore, an important consideration for companies who require employees to drive as part of the role.
For many people who have served in war zones, PTSD symptoms can be triggered by driving. This may be the result of combat that has involved moving vehicles or being trapped in confined spaces during dangerous situations. Things such as heavy traffic, potholes, and passing sirens can trigger flashbacks, an elevated heart rate, and erratic breathing. To minimize the chance of symptoms arising for veterans who are comfortable enough to drive, company vehicles should be spacious and in good running order, and employees should be able to assure staff that they are checked over regularly. However, before ex-service personnel are required to drive, companies should ensure that there is support in place for them and that they are truly ready to take to the wheel.
If you have veterans on your workforce who are open to the idea of driving but also live with PTSD, it’s important to ease them into driving-related work slowly. Ensure that there is another person with them in the car or van, who can offer reassurance and take over if they become overwhelmed. Depending on their level of anxiety, it may be necessary for them to be the passenger for the first few outings. Allow this to continue until they are fully comfortable and broach the idea of driving alone themselves. Employers should be aware that this may take some time, and rushing the process could be harmful to the individual, as well as counter-productive for the company. Early drives should take place over short distances, ideally in the local area where the employee feels safe. Companies could consider hiring a driving instructor for these preliminary drives to help veterans regain their confidence behind the wheel. A driving instructor will also be equipped to teach defensive driving skills, which can help anxious drivers predict situations and avoid accidents.
Employees living with PTSD should be given the opportunity to work through their anxieties with a professional therapist. When the budget allows, this can be provided by the company, but when this is not a possibility, employees should be sensitive to the fact that staff may need a time out of the office to access therapy. Encouraging open dialogue amongst staff will empower individuals to voice concerns and anxieties they may have: it’s important for anyone who feels uncomfortable with driving to be able to say so. PTSD must not be stigmatized, and veterans should not feel coerced into driving if they’re not comfortable. Creating a supportive environment in this way will help veterans living with PTSD to get back into driving slowly and safely.
It’s important for companies to be aware of the mental health of their employees and ensure that they provide the support individuals need, both for the health of the workforce and for the efficiency of the company. When driving is required, companies should take steps to help veterans with PTSD process their anxieties in order to be safe and confident behind the wheel.
By Lucy Wyndham
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