Managing Mental Health as a Trucker
Mental health is a concern that touches everyone, no matter age, job, or place of living. Though it was once considered a very delicate topic to avoid, recent years have seen an increase in mental health awareness and an openness in the discussion around it. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five Americans live with a type of mental illness, varying from mild, moderate, or severe. The stigma surrounding mental health continues to fade, and along with it, the even stronger stigma surrounding mental health in the trucking industry. A common stereotype for truckers is often the tough, independent, free-spirited person that loves a life on the go. However, this stereotype overlooks the incredible stress that often comes in the profession, as well as the impact this stress can have on drivers. As a trucker, your mental health is an important part of your overall well being that can be improved through the right help and care!
Many aspects of a job in the transportation industry bring a series of challenges that can take a toll on mental health in different ways than a conventional job. According to Dr. Neely of Neely Behavioral Health, truckers face the challenge of being away from friends, family, home, and common resources for extended periods of time. Dr. Neely is a certified counselor with over 20 years of experience; her focus shifted to truckers and their mental health after witnessing the struggles of her husband, who was in the trucking industry himself. Dr. Neely highlights that truckers face daily challenges on the road including finding nutritious food, time to exercise, accidents on the road, and scheduling time for doctor appointments. In addition to the challenging nature of life on the road, truckers face immense pressure to stick to their schedules for deliveries in a competitive field. How do you know if you are facing mental health challenges? Evaluate if you are feeling any of these common symptoms:
- Sleep loss or insomnia
- Muscle tension
- Mood Swings
- Excessive worrying
- Excessive feelings of sadness or loneliness
- Substance abuse
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in eating habits
- For a larger list of symptoms, click here
According to Healthy Trucking of America, 1.5% of people in the US suffer from depression. However, 13.6% of truckers in the US face depression, revealing a large difference from the rest of the population. In addition to depression, truckers face other mental health challenges from the nature of the profession. One study revealed that among the surveyed truckers 27.9% suffered from chronic loneliness, 20.6% from sleep disorders, 14.5% from anxiety, and 13% from other reported emotional problems. The long periods of time spent on the road away from family, as well as alone in a cab, are one major contributor to feelings of loneliness and depression, and social anxiety for drivers. The stressful nature of operating large equipment all day under a strict schedule is a commonly reported factor for anxiety in both rookies and experienced drivers. Truckers can also face more serious anxiety disorders such as PTSD, which can be brought on by witnessing or experiencing traffic accidents. Sleep disorders can arise from the pressure for drivers to meet deadlines, log proper hours, or even from anxiety preventing a restful night. The statistics make it clear that there should be no stigma or shame in feeling the effects of mental illness as a trucker. Mental illness amongst the profession is more common than you may think!
While a trucker might be facing one or multiple symptoms of mental illness, the isolation in itself may be enough to deter him or her from seeking help. Dr. Neely has known all too well the nature of the challenge for truckers: “When I started working with truckers, I realized that it’s like they’re like invisible soldiers. They’re on the frontline, they’re getting wounds and battle wounds, and all these things are happening…”
If you are a trucker noticing symptoms of mental illness, know that you are not alone in needing help! While recognizing you need help is a challenge itself, it is the first essential step towards recovery and feeling like your old self again. There are a lot of resources available for drivers seeking counseling and other help with mental health. Remote therapy is an accessible option that has grown increasingly popular during the COVID-19 pandemic; video or phone therapy platforms allow drivers to access a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist at any time or location. Check platforms such as Teladoc, Better Help, and Cerebral to see if they have options that work with your needs! If you would prefer a service more tailored to truckers, Healthy Trucking of America has partnered with MeMD to bring a virtual healthcare platform right to your phone. The platform offers discounted rates to truckers and allows them to access therapy, primary care, pharmacists, and more 24/7 from their phones! Additionally, do not be afraid to reach out to your company’s HR department when seeking help for your symptoms. Trucking companies have been taking a proactive approach towards the health of their drivers, especially since the onset of the pandemic. Your company can help in many ways, such as reducing your hours, allowing a leave of absence to seek treatment, modifying deadlines, and even connecting you to their own mental health programs.
Professional and specialized help is a crucial part in managing your mental health on the road, but you can also take smaller steps towards relieving any mental illness symptoms on your own. Bringing along activities and hobbies that make you happy can provide stress relief after a long day as well as keep your mind occupied when you are alone. Try to schedule a call with friends or family daily to keep you connected to loved ones and fight off any feelings of isolation. Incorporating relaxation strategies will also help manage feelings of depression or anxiety; try taking up meditation, routine exercise, listening to music, or breathing exercises. Even more importantly, create a sleep schedule and stick to it the best you can. Keeping a sleep diary can help you track your hours to be sure you are getting consistent amounts of sleep and will even come in handy when seeing a therapist.
Breaking down the stigma of mental health issues is a change for the better for transportation industry professionals. Truckers face innumerable challenges due to the high stress and fast-paced nature of their profession. While mental health is not an easy topic to broach, addressing your emotions and thoughts with proper care can make a huge difference in your life. No matter how you are feeling, remember that you are not alone, and there are many resources out there to improve your mental health and overall well being.