Mental Health Awareness in the Trucking Industry

Although October may have been recognized as the official month for mental health awareness, we believe that attention should be given throughout the year. Until very recently mental health has been considered a stigma and something to, at worst, ignore or at best keep hushed. However, we have come a long way in our understanding of it and conversations around it. We have started to accept the condition as an illness now more than ever for many reasons but mainly because mental illnesses have more than likely affected each of us personally be it family, friends, co-workers or in ourselves. No industry is immune and that includes the trucking industry.

Loneliness Over-the-Road Should Not be Taken for Granted

With over 3 million truck drivers employed in the field of commercial transportation, trucking is considered one of the largest occupational groups in the country. So, it is no surprise that truck drivers are at risk for a range of mental health issues brought on by their jobs. And because the occupation is rooted in long days alone in high stress conditions and limited social support, the mental health and psychiatric disorders can be exacerbated.

The United States National Library of Medicine reported in a recent study that truckers most frequently reported to suffer from loneliness, depression, chronic sleep disturbances, anxiety and other emotional problems.

Clearly, the issues that drivers face are results of multiple factors, but studies show that a lack of social engagement and communications during the long-haul hours that drivers are committed to, have a direct impact on their mental health. Additionally, there is a large percentage of veterans filling the trucker role. Those drivers report PTSD as a result of their service while other truckers report other forms of PTSD experienced as the result of traumatic accidents. Studies from The United States National Library of Medicine also indicate a growing recognition of the importance of establishing mental healthcare services in the workplace because of the sharply increasing number of applications for workers' compensation due to suicides from overwork.

In this study, 16.7% of truck drivers expressed suicidal thoughts, indicating that it is necessary to conduct follow-up surveys of the mental conditions of truck drivers in order to put in place appropriate mental health measures. — The United States National Library of Medicine (USNLM)

A recent study by USNLM yielded some staggering results. Data collected from a random sample of 316 make truckers between the ages of 23-76 found that a significant percentage of survey drivers had been impacted by issues affecting their mental health. Percentages were as follows:

  • Loneliness (27.9%),
  • Depression (26.9%),
  • Chronic sleep disturbances (20.6%),
  • Anxiety (14.5%), and
  • Other emotional problems (13%).

These finding make it clear that help is needed to improve the occupational health of truck drivers across the nation. Continued research, promotion and analysis and treatment need to become a priority in the trucking industry in order to keep the truckers safe and healthy and the US roadways protected from unintended consequences due to untreated mental illness

What can be done now?

There are a number of things that can be done as a driver or as a fleet owner operator. Some of the most important tactics to use in addressing the mental health of truck drivers are as follows:

  1. Recognize the Problem and Listen: Companies should establish trusting relationships with driver, listen to concerns and address issue with action if possible.

  2. Pet Policies: Drivers are allowed to take a pet on the road which has proven to be therapeutic and effective in calming some mental health issues.

  3. Human Support: Company sponsored chaplains and mentors have also been proved to provide support to drivers at any time of day. A human connection in an industry that is isolating can be vital.

  4. Repeat Clients: Rather than simply acting as a transportation service person, drivers can be put into situations that aid them in cultivating people skills and building relationships. It can provide the driver ownership and worth in their role with the company.

  5. Develop a healthier diet and sleep regimen. Depression and sleep anxiety can be treated by addressing what you put in your body and how often you rest. Although that seem easier than done, diet and physical self-care are enormous factor in how well you can perform, both physically and mentally.

  6. Support system at home: If drivers with spouses and/or children can set up a time to speak to their loved ones in a way that doesn’t interfere with their routes, it could help them cope with isolation.

  7. Daily Activities on the road: There are very simple activities that drivers can do on a daily basis to help stimulate them as well. Keeping a journal or reading a book are great ways to escape one’s feelings and to develop healthy schedules on the job. Sometimes, something as simple as keeping your mind occupied when off work is the best way to escape mental stressors.

Truckdrivers are one of the most sought-after employees in the country. Companies are going above and beyond to retain and attract drivers. By building trusting relationships with drivers, listening to their needs and addressing any issue as they arise will go a long way in the health of the driver and the company overall. A healthy work-life balance is the best way to support and sustain the mental health of those drivers who make up the backbone of our nation.

RESOURCES:

https://www.nami.org/get-involved/awareness-events/mental-illness-awareness-week

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22757596

https://www.truckdrivingjobs.com/faq/mental-health.html

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