Home Mental Health & Well-Being Mental Health Concerns for Long-Haul Truckers

Mental Health Concerns for Long-Haul Truckers

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Long-haul truckers drive long distances, often across state lines, to deliver construction materials, machinery, and other oversized goods. Essentially, they keep America moving. According to the California Trucking Association, the largest statewide trucking trade association in the United States, the average long-haul trucker drives between 100,000 and 110,000 miles per year, with an average daily run of about 500 miles. Spending that much time on the road, away from friends and family, can put these individuals at a heightened risk of being diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

The mental health crisis and the long-haul trucking industry

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are more than 200 known mental illnesses that can wreak havoc on an individual’s life. In a separate study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), researchers revealed that some 58 million adults have a mental illness of some kind. The reason why this is noteworthy is because depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental illnesses are behind some of the traffic accidents that occur on America’s roadways each year. A correlation has been shown between anxiety disorders and an increased risk of car accidents.

Mental health disorders that are common among long-haul truck drivers

Long-haul truck drivers suffer from a variety of mental illnesses, some of which are more common than others. To get a sense of what drivers are dealing with while on the road and even when they are at home and off the clock, we only need to look at a study published by Truckstop, a leading online freight-matching service provider in the trucking industry. It revealed that almost 28% and 27% of truckers reported experiencing loneliness and depression, respectively, while on the road. The study also found that an estimated 21% of long-haul truck drivers struggled with sleep disturbances that took a toll on their professional and personal lives. Examples of these disturbances include insomnia, narcolepsy, excessive daytime sleepiness, restless leg syndrome (RLS), and sleep apnea.

Factors that contribute to mental health problems among truck drivers

Many things can send truck drivers spiralling down a path of mental illness, but the following are among the most common:

  • Being separated from family and friends for extended periods
  • Consuming an unhealthy diet
  • Isolation
  • Lack of exercise
  • Not having a consistent sleep schedule
  • Witnessing tragic, traumatising, or unsettling events on the road, such as accidents involving fatalities

The same study notes that mental illness, irrespective of the contributing factor or factors, makes trucking even more dangerous. The reason why is that symptoms typical of most mental illnesses can negatively affect a truck driver’s ability to fulfil their job duties safely and effectively. Some of these symptoms include the following:

  • A constant desire to engage in harmful or self-destructive behaviours
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Increased agitation
  • Insomnia and narcolepsy

When a truck driver is mentally unwell, lacks focus, and is operating a large vehicle loaded down with freight weighing thousands of pounds, it poses a considerable safety risk to other drivers, pedestrians, and themselves.

Signs that suggest a long-haul truck driver might be struggling with a mental illness

While some mental illnesses are difficult to spot, others are very telling, especially among long-haul truck drivers.

Chronic Loneliness

Available data shows the average long-haul truck driver works anywhere from 40 to 60 hours per week. That’s 40 to 60 hours of working in an isolated profession. With limited interaction with other people, many drivers report feeling chronically lonely. Common telltale signs of chronic loneliness include weight gain, insomnia, frequent illnesses, feelings of abandonment, and substance abuse, which can be in the form of heavy drinking or abusing prescription or street-level drugs.

Anxiety

Truck drivers have a lot of time to think while on the road. Spending too much time in one’s head can give rise to feelings of dread, apprehension, or excessive worry, all of which are synonymous with anxiety. For many truck drivers, these anxious feelings have to do with concerns about staying on track with a strict schedule, dealing with unexpected road closures, and so much more. All of this is concerning because chronic anxiety can trigger stress, which, in turn, can weaken the immune system. According to a 2020 study, uncontrolled stress increases the risk of infections, metabolic diseases, and even cancer.

Depression

As a result of being away from friends and family for extended periods, often missing birthdays, holidays, and even anniversaries, many truck drivers fall victim to depression. Some of the most common signs of depression include a lack of appetite, unintentional weight loss, prolonged sadness, worthlessness, or helplessness.

How to better cope with and manage mental health struggles as a long-haul truck driver

If you’re a long-haul truck driver struggling with mental illness, there are things you can do to better cope with and manage your illness. The first is exercise. Walking, practicing yoga, and strength training are all great exercises you can do on your days off. And they can each improve your physical and mental health. Making a concerted effort to consume a healthy, well-balanced diet is also beneficial. Instead of the junk food options available at most truck stops, consider snacking on fruits, veggies, nuts, yoghurt, and other healthy foods whenever hunger strikes. It’s just a matter of buying and packing these better-for-you foods into a lunchbox before taking to the open road.

Getting adequate rest can also improve your mental health. The FMCSA Rule 395 limits drivers to 11 hours of service per day. It is important to follow this regulation, take regular breaks, and try to get 8 hours of sleep.

Staying hydrated is another excellent way to improve your physical and mental health. In a recent NIH study, researchers found that drinking plenty of water throughout the day is associated with a decreased risk of depression and anxiety. The same study also notes that drinking water improves joint, skin, and digestive health. It can also improve cognitive function, memory, and mood. Lastly, don’t hesitate to seek help from a licensed mental health professional if you need it.




Jeffrey Grant, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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