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How to Protect the Mental Health of Truckers

| January 24, 2019

By: Dr. Jeff Nalin

Would you respond to an employment posting which lists, “lack of sleep, poor working conditions, and social isolation” as the job characteristics? If so, you might be prepared to be a long-haul truck driver. 

Researchers have been examining the poor sleeping and dietary habits associated with truck driving for quite some time. Many of these studies were conducted for the purpose of assessing the causes of – and finding ways to prevent – traffic accidents and obesity. More recently, attention is being turned toward the mental wellbeing of the drivers. Truck drivers are increasingly being found to be at higher risk for depression and anxiety, and substance abuse than those of the average population.

What is it about this occupation that contributes to such risk? The answers to this question appear to lie in the fictional job description, above. Long-haul truck drivers reportgetting less sleep than is recommended; they report increasing job stress; and they report experiencing feelings of loneliness while on the road.

Risk Factors

Truckers are on the road for long hours, and finding time for sleep and comfortable accommodations can mean that valuable time on the road is lost. Many drivers attempt to compensate for this lack of solid sleep with napping throughout the trip. Napping, however, does not adequately substitute for a full sleep, and can actually make sleepiness on the road more likely.The ill effects of this lack good of sleep have been well documented. In addition to contributing to more accidents and poor physical health, not getting enough sleep can also result in cognitive impairment and depression.

The drive, itself, can also contribute to stress and anxiety. Not only does increasing road traffic mean more chances for accidents to occur, deteriorating infrastructure can mean that more time and money is being spent on vehicle repairs. With the wages for truckers decreasing, and the loads being increased, having to deal with repairs can become a financial burden. Stress over financial concerns is one of the leading causes of anxiety.

In addition to these factors, truck drivers are often separated from loved ones for long periods of time. Studies have indicatedthat being alone during times of stress can contribute to an increase in the negative effects. Without someone to share experiences with, the solo trucker is tempted to internalize the stress, which can lead to both physical, and mental, problems. This latent stress can materialize as depression, and even road rage.

Safeguards

While waiting for more comprehensive studies to emerge, there are some concrete steps the truck driver can take to shore against these problems.

·     Make Time for Good Sleep:Avoid the temptations to sacrifice this area of health in order to meet quotas or time limitations. Laws exist to protecta trucker’s right to this basic need, and employers can be held liable for violations. The internet is a good place to start if looking for tips on how good sleepcan be accomplished.

·     Practice Mindful Driving:Defensive driving not only prevents accidents, it can also reduce the amount of stressthat the driver experiences. Plan ahead to encounter the perils of the road and the actions of other drivers. A dose ofempathy can be usefulhere, as well. Try to keep in mind that non-truckers really have no idea how much skill and effort goes into navigating your rig, and are thus likely to fail to be adequately considerate. If they were to give rig driving a go, themselves, they would probably be able to see the benefits of not cutting you off, or of not coming up on your blind side.

·     Consider Obtaining a Driving Buddy: While having a human driving partner can be helpful, this is not always an option. Some truckers are finding that taking a pet along for the ride can work as a substitute for human companionship. While a dog or cat isn’t likely to talk back, they can operate as good listeners. Do your research, and find which pets are bestfor your situation.

·     Use Technology to Stay Close to Loved Ones: A cellphone can be a trucker’s best friend. With current technology, drivers can make calls on the go – through the dashboard – thereby saving valuable driving time. Video conferencing software is also available through phone applications, and can provide access to valuable face-time with friends and family during the long hauls. These types of interactions have been shownto increase the quality of family relationships, and can work as a good stand-in while waiting for physical reunion.

·     Utilize a Therapist for Stress Management: The emergence of teletherapy has made keeping a long-distance appointment with a therapist a viable option for truckers. There are several online resourcesfor finding a reputable distance counselor, and some even specialize in working with truckers and their families.

About the Author, Dr. Jeff Nalin

Dr. Jeff Nalin, Psy.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and the Founder of Paradigm Malibu, a treatment center for teens and their families struggling with psychological, emotional, behavioral, and addiction issues.

Category: Driver Stuff, General Update, News

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