Truck Drivers and Mental Health

Matt is hauling a load of bottled water down to Orlando, but he doesn’t feel like his normal self today. The excitement he typically feels about driving has been muted lately. He’s sleeping more than usual, and his drinking has increased. And while waiting at a red light several miles back, he felt a sudden urge to cry for no reason at all.  

Based on these symptoms, it’s possible that Matt is experiencing a mental health episode (specifically, depression). If so, he wouldn’t be the first truck driver to encounter a mental health challenge. Almost 28% of truckers surveyed in a 2012 research study were found to be suffering from loneliness, 27% from depression, 21% from chronic sleep disturbances, 14.5% from anxiety, and 13% from other emotional problems.  

October is Mental Health Awareness Month, and DAT believes it’s time to shed some light on the prevalence of mental health challenges in the trucking industry. Here are some critical facts Matt should know about mental health conditions like depression and anxiety: 

  1. Having a mental health condition does not make you “crazy.” 
  2. Mental health conditions are completely treatable. 
  3. If Matt is experiencing symptoms, he is not alone. There is help. 

Addressing mental health conditions has a significant impact on the profitability of your business, as well. When Matt is not operating at peak efficiency, the impact is felt on his bottom line. Keeping himself in good mental health is good for his business and his quality of life. 

The Mental and Emotional Impact of Driving 

The dirty little secret about driving a truck is that it puts drivers in a set of circumstances where mental health challenges can evolve easily. For example: 

  • Isolation: Driving a truck requires hours upon hours of time alone in your cab. But as human beings, we depend on other people for support and connection. When we don’t get it, we’re generally sadder and sicker. As mentioned in the study above, more than a quarter of surveyed truckers reported feeling loneliness. 
  • Exercise: Lots of clinical studies say exercise isn’t just for our physical selves. Many say exercise is also mandatory for strong mental health (among other health benefits). But how much exercise can you really get when sitting is part of your job? 
  • Diet: With due respect to the eating establishments in truck stops and next to off-ramps across North America, burgers and fries don’t provide quite the right level of nutrition to support strong mental health.  

Ignoring the Stigma of Mental Illness 

For men in particular, the mere idea of experiencing a mental health challenge can feel emasculating and terrifying. We’ve grown up with terms like “mental breakdown” and the idea that men are supposed to be impenetrably strong, running through a brick wall if that’s what it takes to get the job done. Respectfully, that’s all nonsense. Men are human, vulnerable and fallible like everyone else. And ignoring any sort of health concern is just a bad idea.  

Think of it like any other medical condition. If you had a sharp pain in your abdomen or debilitating back pain, you wouldn’t think twice about going to a doctor to get it checked out. Why should it be any different with mental pain? While there is often an x-ray or an MRI that can show you why you’re experiencing physical pain, there is no such visible evidence of a mental health challenge—but that doesn’t make it any less painful or any less worthy of professional help.  

Are You Depressed? 

The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) is a tool used by mental health clinicians worldwide to help their clients determine the existence and severity of symptoms of depression. You can confidentially answer the questions and self-score your responses here. Based on the results you get, you may wish to consult a therapist or psychiatrist for more help. 

What You Can Do If You’re Struggling 

There is no glory in suffering. And it goes without saying that leaving mental health concerns untreated puts us at risk for even more debilitating conditions, including suicidality. Here’s what you can do: 

Talk to a Pro: a therapist, psychologist, or even your primary care doctor can talk to you about what you’re feeling (many of them conduct sessions via Zoom or other online platforms) and help to get you back on track. There is also a growing number of online therapy and psychiatry providers, like Talkspace, Cerebral, and Better Health. Virtually all therapy providers (in person or online) are legally mandated to keep your information strictly confidential.  

Take Care of Your Brain: Adjust your lifestyle in small ways that can improve your mental health. Eat more spinach, more salmon, more blueberries. Go for a brisk walk. Make a point to go out and eat with friends once or twice a week. Make a list of the people and things for which you are grateful. Make a playlist of the music that speaks to your soul and rock-out to it while you walk. Sing like no one is listening to you. 

Get Out of Your Head: While it may sound frightening to openly talk to others about what was once a taboo topic, consider this: medications that treat mental health conditions (e.g., anxiety, depression) are among the most regularly prescribed meds in the United States—right up there with the drugs that treat heart disease and diabetes. The point? You are not alone. Talk about it. Join a support group. You’ll be amazed at how healing it can be to talk to others who know how you feel.  

Ed. Note: None of the information above is intended to diagnose mental health challenges. If you are concerned about your mental health, contact your physician immediately.  

If you are struggling and feel that you are a danger to yourself or others, dial the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. 

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