5 Essential Aspects In Dealing with Mental Health for Truck Drivers
May was the official Mental Health Awareness Month in the US. However, there’s a growing understanding that we need to be aware of and dealing with this issue at all times. Truck drivers can struggle to do both of these things for various reasons, which can lead to a host of difficulties. With that in mind, we’re shining a spotlight on essential aspects for truckers and their families to remember in dealing with mental health.
The Prevalence of Mental Health Issues is Higher
Official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rates show that the risk of suicide among those in warehousing and transportation is significantly higher than those working in other areas. When you’re on the road it can be difficult to stick to a sleep and exercise routine, eat well and generally maintain physical health. This can have a big impact on the mental side of things. At the same time, truck drivers are much likelier to be involved in or witness terrible road accidents.
The accidents that truckers see can give rise to symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or even full-blown, diagnosable PTSD. Symptoms of this disorder include difficulty sleeping and staying awake, problems maintaining concentration, and panic attacks. On top of all this, the pressure to complete jobs on time and being away from loved ones for extended periods can increase anxiety and depression considerably.
Admitting That There’s a Problem is Tough
Truck driving is still very much a male-dominated profession and still shows a certain level of machismo much of the time. The notion that admitting to a mental health problem is a sign of weakness, much more than admitting to a physical health problem is, is very deeply ingrained. In addition, if drivers are concerned that they’ll fail their Department of Transportation exams – and thus lose the way they support their families – by admitting to an issue, they’re likelier to stay quiet.
This has been especially true during the novel coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown measures. The transport industry has continued, but paychecks have been cut and fewer jobs have been carried out. Even applying all authorities’ preventative orders and doing everything possible to stop the spread of infection and stay healthy on the road, livelihoods have been affected making drivers even more reluctant to say they have a problem.
Accessing Help and Support is Hard on the Road
Truckers keep on trucking – which can make it really difficult when they need to access any kind of professional support for their mental or physical health. Sometimes, they don’t know their schedules far enough in advance to book important appointments, or if they do the timetables can be unexpectedly changed. Regular therapy appointments that involve physically visiting a doctor’s office on a frequent basis are also impossible.
With all these obstacles it can be challenging for truckers to find a doctor that they feel comfortable with. For a lot of people, this takes a while – but they’re able to spend the necessary time because they aren’t on the road for long stretches. Being comfortable is essential to building trust and rapport with mental health professionals, which is vital to effective treatment. Since this trust is more difficult to establish, even truckers who access therapy might not benefit from it as much as they should.
Developing Technology Sometimes Means Greater Demands
New industry technology such as e-logs can increase tension, anxiety, and poor decision-making among drivers. For example, e-logs tend to require strict compliance with rigid schedules. Truckers can feel pressured to make a delivery on time, driving up their stress levels and causing them to stay on the road for longer than they should instead of pulling over to rest. Companies need to use this technology responsibly and allow for unanticipated but necessary breaks.
There is a Lot That Can Be Done
There’s a lot to be desired in the situation regarding trucker mental health in the United States right now, but it’s not hopeless by any means.
Drivers and their employers can both do a lot to help improve the current status quo. As we mentioned above, operating companies must build allowances for breaks into their workers’ schedules. An industry-wide understanding that the improved mental health of truck drivers is worth deliveries taking a little longer, needs to be entrenched.
That policy of understanding and supporting psychological issues should be extended to assure truckers that they won’t lose their jobs if they admit to anxiety, depression, or other issues. Better assessment standards and protocols need to be developed and this will take time. In the interim, companies can foster connection and communication with their staff. If someone feels safe to voice concern, they’re much likelier to do so which could prevent serious problems down the line.
With the incredible improvements that we’ve seen in technology, it’s now easier than ever for drivers to stay in touch with family and friends – and with therapists. Building an hour-long video call into your week is a lot more feasible than going to a doctor’s office would be. You just need to be willing to make the commitment and put in the time – you can build up a lot of trust via video conferencing, but you have to value yourself enough to keep showing up.
On the subject of valuing yourself, regular grooming and self-care are vital too. You might not think it’s necessary to keep yourself or your cab neat and clean if no one is going to see either of them, but you are. These basic activities show self-respect and will make you feel better and more able to tackle any problems. Keep personal mementos and photographs of your loved ones close by – and don’t forget to check in with your nearest and dearest regularly.
Lastly, do your best to stick to a routine. Wake up and go to sleep around the same time, fit exercise into your day, and try to eat healthy meals. Again, this may mean deliveries take a little longer but your mental (and physical) vitality will be so much better for it. Your personal quality of life will be higher, and you’ll be more alert on the roads.
Trucker mental health is a public issue that affects us all – so prioritize it and give it the respect that it deserves!