Recognizing and Preventing Depression in Truck Drivers

All too often, the reality of life on the open road does not measure up to a driver’s expectations. Many new drivers are lured into the field with promises of big money, time at home, paid time off and on-the-job training. Once the newness of the job has worn off, however, reality begins to take a toll on a driver’s mental health.

Hardships of Over The Road Driving

In truth, driving a semi truck full time is an incredibly difficult job. The term “road warriors” is very fitting once the hardships are factored in. Depression in truck drivers can be the end result for many who are unprepared for the realities of life in an 18-wheeler. Some of these hardships include:

  1. Loneliness – The life of a trucker is lonely and solitary as drivers spend hundreds of thousands of miles each year behind the wheel. Yes, Bluetooth headsets enable drivers to reach out to family and friends and chat as they make their way across the state or country, but when each phone call is over, the driver may still feel isolated.
  2. Lower than expected pay – Many drivers have taken on this type of job in an effort to help with bills at home. When they find out that their pay is not as much as they were promised, many drivers feel trapped in a career choice that they do not know how to get out of.
  3. Poor nutrition – Studies about the link between nutrition and mental health have been performed for years and findings usually state that eating less nutritious foods leads to declining mental health of truck drivers and feelings of overall happiness. Drivers who spend much of their time on the road have a difficult time eating healthy foods, and may have more depression because of it.
  4. Feeling of powerlessness – Though many drivers are in the job to help out with expenses at home, they often feel as if they cannot do enough from the driver’s seat to actually help with things that are going on at home. When they find that loved ones are ill, that cars have broken down or that there is a home repair waiting to be done, these feelings of powerlessness can build to an uncomfortable level.
  5. Ongoing stress – There are many stressors that come along with a trucking job. From government regulations, schedule changes and logbook rules to other drivers on the road who are not paying attention or seem to hate all semis. Finding ways to manage these stress levels in the cab of a truck can be difficult if not impossible.
  6. Irregular sleep schedule – New logbook regulations create an irregular schedule for most drivers on the road today. Instead of being able to stop and sleep when they feel drowsy, many are required to keep on driving in order to get the maximum number of driving hours allowed by law. Day and night are no longer taken into consideration, only the computer in the truck that tells a driver when they may and may not be driving. Unfortunately, this disruption of circadian rhythms has also been linked to depression.

Ways to Prevent Depression

Truck drivers and employers who understand and are willing to address the possibility of depression for over the road drivers can often make changes that help to prevent the dark cloud from settling in the cab of the truck in the first place.

One thing that can help drivers is a sense of community within the trucking industry, and with the benefit of the internet, finding a community can be as easy as the click of a mouse. Some companies work to keep drivers talking and connecting based on age group, experience or route similarities. Other companies have found that pairing an older driver with a younger driver, even if they drive different vehicles, can form a mutually beneficial teacher–student relationship. There are many driver forums available on the internet where drivers, in their downtime, can ask questions, tell about the hardest part of their day or just chat with someone who understands.

Having healthier eating habits can help drivers fight depression as well. Employers can help in this effort by making sure each semi has a working refrigerator and microwave, so drivers will not feel fatty truck stop food is their only option. Some employers even host incentive programs based on healthy eating options or weight loss among a group of drivers.

Exercise might be the very last thing on a driver’s mind, but getting regular exercise has been proven to be effective in fighting depression. Trucking companies should have exercise facilities available at the hub offices and should take time to train drivers on how to get exercise when they are not at the hub. Some drivers carry a bike so they can take a short ride when time allows while others keep a set of exercise bands in the truck so they can stretch and get some exercise before they go to sleep.

Realizing that depression among truckers is a very common problem is the first step in helping to find a cure. Employers and drivers who work together are sure to find a solution that benefits everyone involved.

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