An app to support the mental wellbeing of taxi drivers

The humble taxi driver can often seem on the receiving end of technology, what with Uber providing intense competition, and autonomous vehicles looming just around the next bend.

Alas, a recent project from the University of Melbourne set out to try and make their lives a little better.  The researchers wanted to try and improve the health and wellbeing of taxi drivers, as the sedentary lifestyle most live has an adverse impact upon their physical and emotional wellbeing. Indeed, data suggests that stress and anxiety are five times higher than the average person.

To try and help matters, the researchers have developed an app to support them in being more relaxed mentally.

“Taxi drivers are a highly vulnerable population, reporting high rates of psychological distress,” the researchers say.  “The majority of urban drivers are from non-English speaking backgrounds and our research shows that they are working long hours, 60-70 hours a week in 12 hour shifts, that involve incredibly long periods of sitting down. But they are also a population that is hard reach with health interventions because of their unique working environment.”

The road to better mental health

The app aims to offer drivers a range of physical and mental exercises that are designed to fit in with their busy schedule.  What’s more, they can be done whilst in or out of the car.  The sessions range from 2 minute bursts to slightly longer 10 minute exercises, with the exercises themselves similar to those recommended for long-haul travelers.

“The ultimate goal is improving the mental health of drivers, but we are focusing also on their physical health as a way to do that,” the team say. “Muscle tension can build up in drivers over long periods of time and that can lead into feelings of stress. We know that sitting down for long periods isn’t good for you so a lot of our exercises are about breaking up those long periods of sitting down.”

In addition to prompts for mental and physical activity, the app also provides recommendations for diet, especially around drinking enough.  It also helps drivers to locate public toilets to help them avoid kidney issues.

It’s a fascinating, and often unexplored topic, not least because so many drivers report high levels of psychological distress through their work.  The combination of shift work, low income and usually migrant status can put a considerable strain on drivers.

Social support

It also attempts to tap into the natural desire of drivers to socialize together when out on the job, and offers opportunities to share health advise among themselves.

This user generated aspect needs to be carefully managed to ensure that the advice given is correct, but nonetheless, it’s a feature that the team are very keen to implement.

“Taxi drivers are an overwhelmingly social bunch – it is the wrong profession for an introvert. So what we want to do is tap into that social connectedness that taxi drivers have,” they say.

A prototype is due for release in March among a small group of drivers, with the feedback then implemented into improvements before an eventual release to the general public.

It’s a nice project, and one that’s worth keeping in touch with.  You can learn more about it via the video below.

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