Getting stuck in traffic daily increases risk of chronic mental health issues

KUALA LUMPUR: Leaving her house in Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, as early as 6.15am for the 60-kilometre travel to her office in the Federal capital here has become a routine for civil servant Aida Ismail, 35.

Even a slight delay, will see her arriving at her office later than 9am. In all, she spends about six hours on the road daily to commute between her house and office, arriving home only at 9pm, which by then, her only child is normally fast asleep.

That has been Aida's routine since last April when the country began transitioning into the endemic phase.

In a month, she is on the road for about 120 hours, which is equivalent to five days, a situation which is experienced by thousands other workers.

"There are times when I feel so stressed, I hear whispers, that I feel like crashing into the car in front," said the woman, who also complained of lower back pain due to long hours of driving.

A senior consultant psychiatrist at Universiti Malaya, Associate Prof Dr Muhammad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari said the situation of continuously getting stuck in traffic jams could contribute to mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.

"The stress will increase if the person is often late for work and is reprimanded or given warning by the employer, which in turn affects his/her emotion and work productivity," he said.

Dr Muhammad Muhsin said if not addressed, the matter could also lead to the person having high blood pressure, heart diseases and diabetes, which would get worse without a healthy lifestyle.

Therefore, he said, time management was important to avoid the rush.

A specialist at the Psychology and Human Wellbeing Research Centre, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Professor Dr Rozmi Ismail expressed the importance for employers to implement flexible working hours as one of the measures to overcome the situation and create a healthier work environment.

"This means having staggered working hours so that employees do not come to work and leave at the same time.

"For example, having a shift system that starts at 8am to 5pm and the second shift starts at 10am to 8pm.

"Alternatively, we can also implement a rotation system that requires employees to be present in rotation in the office," he said.

Based on media reports last month, Deputy Minister of Human Resources Datuk Awang Hashim said employees in the country who want to work on a flexible basis could apply for Flexible Working Arrangements (FWA) with their respective employers under the amendment to the Employment Act 1955, which will come into force on Sept 1.

The FWA application must be made in writing and can cover changes in working hours, working days and also the place of work.

Rozmi said implementing the flexible working hours could help increase workers’ productivity and help reduce the risk of stress, while maintaining the quality of life and mental well-being.

"After all, we went through it during implementation of the Movement Control Order which required almost all organisations to adopt the work from home concept.

"This not only allows workers to give full attention to the tasks given because there is no need to commute to work and this can save time and work can be more productive," he added.

He said civil servants should also be considered to work flexible hours according to the suitability of the department.

Rozmi said having flexible working hours also allowed better time management of workers as it enabled them to better arrange their time without neglecting their responsibilities at home, especially for the married ones.

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