Posted May 16, 2024

Mental Health Awareness in Trucking

By Gigi Tino

Truck driving is a demanding and often isolating profession that can take a toll on mental health. As truck drivers spend long hours on the road away from their families and support systems, the risk of experiencing mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression increases. Mental health has a direct impact on a trucker’s safety, career success, and overall well-being on and off the road. Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s imperative to explore the urgent need for mental health awareness and support within the trucking industry.

Recognizing the importance of mental health is the first step in addressing the well-being of truck drivers. The mental health challenges facing truck drivers are complex and multifaceted, stemming from the unique demands of their profession. For example, a 2020 survey by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health studied the risk factors for depression in trucking and found that 44% of long-haul truckers reported symptoms of depression in the last 12 months. There was a significant correlation between truckers who reported severe work-related stress and depression, making them almost four times more likely to report having been depressed in the past year. Even more worrying, 85% of drivers who reported depressive symptoms had not received any form of psychiatric medication. 80% had not received any type of professional mental health treatment in the past year.

Dr. Mona Shattell is a professor and endowed chair at the University of Central Florida’s College of Nursing who has been an active researcher on the health challenges truckers are confronted with. She has been a leading figure in the growth of mental health awareness in the trucking industry for over a decade. One of Shattell’s most significant surveys, released in 2012, found that 27.9% of respondent truckers suffered from chronic loneliness, 20.6% from sleep disorders, 14.5% from anxiety, and 13% from other reported emotional problems. Her 2019 study on occupational health risks for long-haul truckers interviewed 140 drivers and uncovered another aspect of the job that can impact mental health: witnessing accidents. Repeated exposure to accidents can escalate stress into diagnosable mental illnesses such as acute stress disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder.

DAT Freight & Analytics interviewed 504 truck drivers, 334 of whom were owner-operators, to better understand the mental health challenges truckers face in their 2023 On the Road and Beyond survey. The results of this survey reflect the ongoing occupational challenges of trucking. Loneliness and isolation are high in this profession, with 54% of those surveyed spending less than 24 hours per week at home. Truckers also noted struggles with getting rest. 63% of truckers said they sleep 6 hours or less per night, and 38% said they take medication to help them sleep. Overall, nearly 75% of drivers stated the job is physically and emotionally stressful.

Research, such as the aforementioned studies, shows there are several common factors endemic to the job that affect mental health. One of the most significant contributors to mental health issues among truck drivers is the profound sense of isolation inherent in their profession. Spending days, weeks, or even months on the road can lead to feelings of loneliness and disconnection from loved ones. The demanding schedules and irregular work hours of truck drivers frequently lead to sleep deprivation and fatigue which exacerbates symptoms of anxiety and depression. The sedentary nature of truck driving, coupled with limited access to nutritious food options on the road, can contribute to physical health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. These physical conditions are linked to higher rates of mental illness, such as depression.

As mental health awareness grows, more and more resources available to truck drivers for mental health support. DAT’s survey found that almost 46% of respondents said access to mental health services would be an effective way to help them manage stress. However, truckers often note the difficulty of finding mental health support, even if they are open to speaking with a professional. The transient nature of their work makes it challenging for truck drivers to access mental health resources, such as counseling or support groups, while on the road. Luckily, new telehealth services make counseling more available to people with challenging work schedules by connecting by video calls, phone calls, and even texting. Some digital therapy platforms include Teladoc, BetterHelp, and TalkSpace. For a service 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. Many trucking companies now offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) that provide access to counseling services and mental health professionals, so never hesitate to speak to your employer about your options. Furthermore, there are helplines and online support groups specifically tailored to the needs of truckers, offering a sense of community and understanding that can alleviate feelings of isolation. American Trucking Associations has an online Driver Health and Wellness Hub covering the latest government and non-profit organizational efforts and resources for truckers regarding mental and physical health.

Mental health awareness for truck drivers is an essential component of their overall well-being. Trucking companies, industry associations, and government agencies can play a pivotal role in promoting mental health awareness and providing resources for drivers. By acknowledging the prevalence of mental health issues among truckers and promoting a supportive environment, we can work towards improving the mental health landscape within the trucking industry.

Always remember that your mental health matters. Take care of yourself and reach out for support when you need it!