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Depression is an important public-health problem and one of the leading causes of disease worldwide, because it presents a high morbidity with other illnesses. Up to 4% of men and 8% of women suffer from a clinically significant major depressive disorder, although depressive symptoms are much more common. Depending on the way it is defined depression can be seen as a state of mood, as a symptom, as a syndrome or as a clinical diagnosis. Attention and psychomotor functioning are impaired when someone has depression and it has been associated with impaired functioning on cognitively demanding tasks, and concurrent information-processing biases. This is especially problematic if we consider that, in the case of drivers, the act of driving a motor vehicle involves a high complexity, and the need to be in optimal conditions to carry out this activity.
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A recently published study developed by the University of Valencia (Spain) has established interesting relationships between depressive symptomatology and driving safety outcomes. This study was designed as a national survey, and covered a very-high sample of 1200 active drivers from all over Spain, looking to describe the relationship between the prevalence, perception and incidence of depressive symptomatology on drivers, and its incidence on assumed risky behaviors.
Researchers highlight some relevant results of this study, that may have potential implications for road safety: Principally, that it has been found that 21.9%,(i.e.) approximately one of every five Spanish drivers, show depressive symptoms. Second, there were found significant associations between the presence of depressive symptoms and a lower risk-taking while driving. In other words, the relatively high impact of the depressive symptoms on drivers shows that driving is, often, performed under a negative condition, and it has to be borne in mind that, among the negative effects of depression on driving, we can found: difficulties to select the important information and to keep the level of alertness or to focus, sensory, perceptual, and emotional alterations, memory problems, impoverishment of the decision-making strategies, as well as the deterioration of the execution that causes an increase of the reaction time, nervousness, irritability, fear or even aggressiveness.
One of the authors of this study, Dr. Cristina Esteban, associate professor of the University of Valencia, states, regarding the potential application of the results of this paper, that"there is a growing and explicit need to inform, train, and make drivers aware of detecting, recognizing and managing the symptoms linked to depression, as a prospective measure to improve the outputs of these drivers in terms of driving performance and traffic accident prevention".
Authors:Francisco Alonso, Cristina Esteban, Sergio A. Useche, Mireia Faus DATS (Development and Advising in Traffic Safety) Research Group, INTRAS (University Research Institute on Traffic and Road Safety), University of Valencia. Valencia, Spain. The original paper of this study has been just published in the International Journal of Psychological and Brain Sciences.