Mental health has come into particular focus these past few years, and while the conversation growing in general is great, there are still a number of industries and fields that are in a “blind spot” of sorts–not receiving the attention or resources that others may be. Trucking, for all of its positives, is a field that can invite a number of challenges into one’s life. To make matters worse, trucking can also occasionally feel lonely or isolated and make reaching out for help that much more difficult.
In other words, truck driving is a demanding career – physically AND mentally. Some studies suggest as many as 1 in 5 drivers report suffering from some form of mental health struggle. This blog explores some of the most common forms of mental health struggles, how and why trucking can cause these issues, and some tips on how to make a difference/seek any necessary help.
What Sort of Mental Health Struggles Do Truckers Deal With? How Common is it?
As mentioned above, recent studies have suggested that as many as 20% of all truckers report some form of mental health struggle–and the real number is likely much larger (as we’ll discuss soon). There are a number of forms mental health struggles can take, but the most common one is obvious: depression. While more attention has (thankfully) been given to the issue in recent years, this also means it can be easy to “tune out” the conversation. Making matters more difficult is the fact that many of the symptoms of depression are things that every driver (and human being) are going to struggle with occasionally. However, several of the symptoms (listed below) over an extended period of time is cause for pause:
- Lack of Excitement/Interest
- Disturbed Sleep Schedule (Sleeping More or Less Than Usual)
- Increased Drinking/Smoking
- Emotional Outbursts (irritability, bouts of crying, etc).
- Feeling Nervous/Tense
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Sense of Impending Doom/General Feeling of Apprehension or Dread
- Excessive Sweating
- Stomach Issues
- Muscle Tension/Spasms
- Headaches or Body Aches
- Feelings of Hopelessness/Worthlessness
While this list is by no means comprehensive, it should provide an idea of some of the things to look out for while out on the road.
What is it About Trucking That Makes it Easy for Mental Health Issues to Rise Up?
There’s no denying it: trucking puts a person into a situation/environment where stress can easily build, multiply, and morph into a number of mental health issues. Some of the biggest factors that play into this are:
- Isolation: Driving a truck requires hours and hours spent in a truck cab alone. Even with a partner splitting the driving duties, they’ll likely be asleep during the time you’re awake–meaning you’re as good as alone. As social beings (no matter how reserved or outgoing), drivers simply must have some form of social interaction for support, connection, and/or simple entertainment. When we go without these things for an extended period of time, we suffer both mentally and physically. More than a quarter of surveyed truckers reported feeling lonely.
- Lack of Physicality – The direct connection between body and mind is pretty well established at this point…simply put, exercise has a significant effect on our physical and mental well-being. Truck driving is a stressful job that can make it seem impossible to find the time to get out and stretch your legs–which is why it’s all the more important that you do just that. When we don’t get enough physical activity, even if it’s just walking or low-impact exercises, our health suffers in more ways than one.
- Diet – Spending so much time out on the road isn’t exactly conducive to a healthy diet, as much as we may enjoy the occasional cheeseburger and fries. Generally speaking, truckers often settle for quick, low-quality meals that offer very little in terms of nutritional value and far too much in terms of caloric content. As a result, they suffer from a number of issues that come from an unbalanced, unhealthy diet.
Ignore the Social Stigma–Don’t Suffer in Silence
While understanding of mental health issues may have increased in recent years, it’s an unfortunate truth that there often remains a social stigma attached to the term “mental health.” In certain industries, like trucking, this stigma is more likely to be present. In an already isolated career, struggling with one’s mental health can be even more isolating (particularly in men, who are less likely to reach out for help). Suffering in silence doesn’t make a person stronger, more honorable, or more admirable–and it goes without saying that ignoring mental health issues will almost certainly make things worse.
There are some things you can do to help with these issues, should they come up during a particularly long or difficult stretch on the road–keep in mind, however, that nothing substitutes for getting the help you need:
- Move More – It can be difficult to find the time to take a walk or hit the gym in the middle of a route…so build your schedule around it. Don’t neglect yourself for the job, and don’t take on unnecessary health risks by not getting exercise!
- Keep Your Mind Sharp – Unwind after a long day with a puzzle, or maybe try an investigative podcast to tickle your brain while on the road–you’d be surprised how much better it can make you feel.
- SLEEP – Not just any sleep either, but a good night’s sleep is essential for maintaining our mental and physical health. Inconsistent sleep patterns can affect our moods and overall mental health significantly (as can the intake of too much caffeine).
- Be Open, Reach Out, Stay Connected – Trucking can mean being away from the people you care about for long periods of time. This, coupled with the isolation and stresses that come with driving, can make it easy to feel alone. Don’t settle for loneliness–technology makes it easier than ever to reach out to your friends and family. Whether it’s to ask for support or shoot the breeze, don’t underestimate the power of connecting with your loved ones.
And Most Importantly…
Talk to a Professional
Make no mistake: while there are things we can all do to help our moods on a daily basis, nothing takes the place of getting professional help when you need it. Again–there’s nothing to be gained from suffering with mental health issues, and there’s no shame in it whatsoever. Get the help you need to make sure that you’re the best driver–and your best self–when out on the road.
TruckLogics wants to provide every driver with what they need to hit the road happily and effectively! Check out our other blogs, including ones on driving with a partner (both the two-legged and four-legged variety) and how that can also help with some of the more taxing aspects of truck driving. Take a look, and happy travels!