Truck driving is a demanding profession that often involves long hours on the road away from loved ones and the comforts of home. It's no surprise that many truck drivers face mental health challenges such as loneliness, depression and anxiety.
In fact, you might be feeling some of those feelings right now and that’s how you found this article.
Let’s get this out there now: While treatment is becoming more widely available and people are more openly discussing mental health, people still deal with mental health stigma every day.
We see drivers leave the industry because they’re struggling with balancing their mental health and the stress of the job. Is there a way for drivers to prioritize their mental health and still keep up with the demands of the job? We think so.
As a doctor in Central Minnesota, I work with truck drivers often — whether I’m performing a Department of Transportation (DOT) physical to help them earn a medical card or advising them on how to manage a medical condition.
In this article, I’ll discuss the common mental health challenges I talk about with drivers daily. I’ll discuss strategies and resources to address these issues.
It's time to break the stigma surrounding mental health and provide you and drivers just like you with the tools you need to maintain your well-being.
Common Truck Driver Mental Health Challenges
Before I dive into strategies that can help you work through mental health challenges, I think it’s important to note just how important mental health is. Mental health is just as important as your physical health. It’s just as important to treat depression and anxiety as it is to treat a condition like hypertension or diabetes.
Depression and anxiety are widespread issues in our society, and they affect truck drivers just as they do people in other professions. In fact, statistics show that compared to the general population, truck drivers suffer more widely from depression.
Drivers face a unique situation on the road. For starters, you’re away from your support system for long periods. It can get lonely being in the truck by yourself day after day with no one to talk to or keep you company. You may struggle with creating a healthy routine to keep your mind and body in check because you’re living out of a truck. And it’s difficult to focus on your physical health when you don’t have easy access to a gym and healthy food.
Not only that, but you have a stressful, demanding job. You work long hours and it can be stressful meeting deadlines, driving through poor road conditions, dealing with the motoring public and juggling the demands of your company. All the while, you’re trying to make money to send home to keep food on the table. Being in the truck by yourself gives you a lot of time to think and drivers can start to worry excessively and go into a negative spiral. If you’re not taking the time to get your mind right, it can take a toll on you.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Depression
Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness, making it challenging for individuals to seek help. You may be scared to speak about your feelings for fear of looking weak. Again, mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of. These challenges are not unusual, and it's essential to recognize them early to provide support and intervention.
It's crucial for you to be aware of the signs and symptoms that may indicate a mental health issue — both in yourself and in others. When you recognize the signs in yourself or another person, don’t shy away from them: Seek help as soon as possible. Just like you’d seek treatment for diabetes or a broken arm, you should seek treatment for depression and anxiety.
There are some common signs of mental health issues you can look for. Look for changes in behavior, such as increased withdrawal, trouble staying focused, memory problems, low mood and irritability. An overwhelming sense of stress is another sign of a mental health issue.
People dealing with depression tend to isolate themselves and avoid social interaction. As a truck driver, that’s very easy to do because you’re alone so often. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to these symptoms and get help as soon as you notice them.
Getting Help for Mental Health Issues
Seeking help is the first and most crucial step towards better mental health. Truck drivers, like anyone else, should feel comfortable reaching out for assistance. If you recognize the signs of mental health challenges in yourself or others, there are several steps you can take to get help.
First, you should start by contacting your primary care provider. They can be a valuable resource in addressing mental health concerns. They will evaluate your condition, provide guidance and offer treatment options. Reach out to them when you start noticing changes in your behaviors or mood. If you can wait to meet with them, schedule an appointment with them the next time you’re home.
Together, you can talk about the best course of action for you and your unique situation. Some people use medication to manage depression and anxiety symptoms, some rely on therapy and some utilize both. In fact, studies show the combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication is the most effective treatment method against anxiety and depression.
CBT is an effective therapeutic approach for addressing mental health issues. It focuses on developing strategies to manage stress and anxiety, without relying solely on medication.
Thankfully, with the rise of telehealth services, truck drivers can access mental health care even when on the road. Take advantage of virtual therapy sessions to address your concerns. You may be able to schedule a telehealth appointment sooner than an in-person appointment. It’s also easier to regularly attend telehealth appointments where you don’t need to leave your truck or arrange for home time.
Be sure you also lean on your trucking company for support. Larger trucking companies often have established policies for handling mental health issues. Be proactive and inquire about the support your employer offers. Smaller companies may not have formal policies, but they can still provide help and resources.
You face unique challenges on the road due to your demanding work environment. Here are some strategies and resources to help maintain mental health while on the road:
Use technology to your advantage. Regularly check in with family and friends through phone calls, texts or video chats to combat loneliness. Scheduling a call at the same time each day will give you something to look forward to and will build a healthy routine.
Consider other ways of staying connected, such as writing letters, playing virtual games together and sharing photos of your activities.
Bring Along Loved Ones
If possible, consider traveling with a pet or a family member. Their presence can provide companionship and emotional support during your journeys. Many drivers have their pets with them on the road at all times because it’s a major sense of stress relief and a great reminder of home.
Keep mementos, like photos of loved ones or notes, in your truck to provide comfort and remind you of home. There’s nothing like looking at a drawing your young child made pinned to the wall of your cab — it’ll put a smile on your face every time.
Create a folder in your phone of videos and photos of your loved ones, too. Look at this folder on your phone when you’re feeling lonely or need to relieve stress.
Fit Exercise Into Your Routine
Exercise is crucial to your mental health. Not only can it reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and negative mood, but it can improve confidence and cognitive function.
Exercising releases feel-good chemicals like serotonin and endorphins. Whenever you have a few minutes during breaks, take the opportunity to do a brisk walk or light exercise. Even five to ten minutes can make a significant difference in your mental well-being and you’ll feel the benefit of those feel-good chemicals.
Practice mindfulness and meditation to manage stress and stay mentally sharp. There are several apps and online resources that can guide you through these practices.
You can practice mindfulness all day every day, from being mindful about the foods you eat to the way you hold yourself to the way you’re breathing. Even taking a few minutes throughout your day to take mindful deep breaths will help with stress relief.
Quality sleep is essential for mental health. In fact, getting poor sleep can put you at risk of mental health problems.
Unfortunately, obtaining quality sleep can be tough — especially if you’re part of a team and have to sleep when your partner is driving.
Schedule your day to allow for blocks of quality sleep. Create a conducive sleeping environment in your truck, such as dimming the lights and controlling the temperature. Be mindful of your caffeine intake, as it can interfere with sleep (and it can add to your anxiety). Turn on a sound machine to block out outside noises and make sure you have comfortable pillows and bedding. Make your bed feel as homey as possible.
If you need a short nap during the day, take it. A 15-minute power nap during a break can help refresh your mind and boost your alertness.
Maintain Work-Life Balance
Balancing work and personal life can be challenging for truck drivers like you, especially when you’re living and working in the same space. Take the time to actually get out of your truck at the end of your work day.
Bring your hobby on the road with you to get your mind off work. Socialize with people at the truck stop, go see a movie or enjoy a nice meal — anything you can do to get out of the truck for a little bit.
Prioritize Something to Look Forward To
Plan activities or outings that you can anticipate and enjoy. This anticipation can significantly boost your mood and mental health. It can be something as simple as watching a movie Saturday night with popcorn at home.
Enjoy Your Time on the Road
Drivers like you play a vital role in our economy, but they often face significant mental health challenges due to the nature of their profession. It's essential to acknowledge these challenges and provide the support and resources needed to address them.
By recognizing the signs of mental health issues, seeking help, and implementing coping strategies, you can improve your mental well-being and continue to thrive on the road.
In the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare, there is a growing emphasis on providing better access to mental health support and resources, and you should take advantage of these developments. Remember, your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and taking care of it will lead to a more fulfilling and successful career.