Caught in traffic every day increases the risk of developing chronic mental disorders

KUALA LUMPUR: Leaving her home in Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, as early as 6:15 a.m. for the 60 kilometer journey to her office in the federal capital here has become routine for civil servant Aida Ismail, 35.

Even a slight delay will see her arrive at her office past 9am. In all, she spends about six hours on the road a day commuting between her home and office, not arriving home until 9 p.m., when her only child normally sleeps.

This has been routine in Aida since last April, when the country began its transition to the endemic phase.

In one month, she is on the road for about 120 hours, which is equivalent to five days, a situation that thousands of other workers experience.

“There are times when I feel so stressed, I hear whispers, I want to crash into the car in front,” said the woman, who also complained of lower back pain from long hours of driving.

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

“Stress will increase if the person is often late for work and is reprimanded or warned by the employer, which in turn affects their emotion and productivity at work,” he said.

Dr. Muhammad Muhsin said that if left untreated, the problem could also lead the person to suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes which would worsen without a healthy lifestyle.

Therefore, he said, time management was important to avoid rushing.

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

“That means having staggered working hours so that employees don’t come to work and leave at the same time.

“For example, having a shift system that starts from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the second shift starts from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“Alternatively, we can also set up a rotation system that requires employees to rotate around the office,” he said.

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

The FWA request must be made in writing and can cover changes in working hours, working days and also work location.

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

“After all, we experienced it during the implementation of the Movement Control Order which required almost all organizations to adopt the concept of working from home.

“It not only allows workers to give their full attention to the assigned tasks, because there is no need to go to work, which can save time and work can be more productive,” he said. he adds.

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

Rozmi said having flexible working hours also allows for better time management of workers as it allows them to better organize their time without neglecting their responsibilities at home, especially for the bride and groom.

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