When Ashley Watson and Sharesse Jackson founded National Minority Women Association in Transportation (NMWAIT) in 2021, one of their many goals was to provide a “safe space” for BIPOC men and women to deal with issues they face in the transportation industry. At the top of that list of issues is mental health.
Truck drivers are at particular risk for mental-health challenges. According to a report from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a branch of the National Institutes of Health: “Professional truck drivers work in stressful conditions that favor unhealthy lifestyles and medical disorders. Their overall health, and especially their mental health, is very often worse than the general population as a consequence of long driving shifts, disrupted sleep patterns, chronic fatigue, social isolation, compelling service duties, delivery urgency, job strain, low rewards, and unsystematic medical control.”
“These women and these men are out on the road,” Sharesse says. “They don’t have that work–life balance anymore. They live in their truck. That can affect someone mentally when they don’t have that break, because their mind is always on work. We don’t feel that’s being addressed in the transportation industry the way it should be, which is why we wanted to have a safe space, where if people are on the road, they have someone to talk to.”
As part of their efforts to address some of these mental-health issues, NMWAIT launched their M2 chapter in February to include minority men in their work and provide them with their own safe space and sense of community.
“Now they have a community of men like them they can talk to,” Sharesse says. “If you’re not having a good day mentally, you can go to this community of guys, because you’re probably not the only one. That’s what safe space means. You have somewhere to go to say, ‘I’m having this issue, is there anybody I can talk to who will listen?’ Sometimes it’s just about someone needing someone to listen. So that safe space is very important.”
“We speak about a healthy lifestyle, and that’s often attributed to food and working out,” says Damien Blackman, owner-operator of Toronto-based Jada Trucking Empire, Inc. and a member of the M2 board. “You don’t have to be a bodybuilder, but move the body often, because when your physical health starts to deteriorate, then your mental health starts to go, and it’s all downhill from there.”
In addition to encouraging his and other drivers to stay physically fit, Damien advises them to pay attention to things that are influencing them psychologically: “Listen and watch positive things. Stay away from negative people. Stay away from the naysayers, the Negative Nancys, the Debbie Downers. Change your outlook, change your thought process. If you feel good about yourself, you start to think, ‘Oh, I am worthy.’ That’s where M2 comes in. We are worthy.”
With more than 3.5 million truck drivers employed in the United States, there is a lot of work to do to help them deal successfully with mental health issues and feel that sense of worthiness. NMWAIT is up to the challenge, Sharesse says: “We’re breaking the cycle one person at a time and one industry at a time, honestly, because it’s not just in transportation, it’s across the board.”
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