By: Lorie Dodson, CDLjobs.com

Mental health is a topic that’s not always easy to broach, but it’s one that we need to talk about. In the last decade, truckers’ wellbeing has been the focus of numerous studies, and the results are alarming.

A 2012 study entitled Trucking organization and mental health disorders of truck drivers revealed that there were over 3 million truck drivers in the United States. This commercial transportation and material moving occupation is one of the largest occupational groups in the U.S. Thus, the industry is a significant contributor to American citizens’ employment.

The abstract of this study indicated that truck drivers are most at risk for mental health and psychiatric disorders. High occupational stress, low access to and use of health care, and a lack of social support were all contributing factors.

The authors collected data from a random sample of 316 male truck drivers who were present at a truck stop 100 miles away from Greensborough, North Carolina. The respondents were between the ages of 23 and 76. They found that the drivers who they surveyed suffered – for the most part – from disorders that affected their mental health:

●        27.9% reported suffering from loneliness

●        26.9% reported suffering from depression

●        20.6% reported suffering from chronic sleep disturbances

●        14.5% reported suffering from anxiety

●        13% reported suffering from other emotional problems

As you can imagine, these stats have probably skyrocketed in the last few years. That’s why these five tips should be implemented wherever possible:

1) Adjust Schedules To Allow for Family Time

Business Insider spoke to several truck drivers about their lives on the road and what they found the most challenging aspect to deal with. Like the study mentioned above, all the interviewees said that loneliness was the biggest problem they had to face.

However, they said that what got them through the never-ending drives was the knowledge that they were able to provide for their families because of the job. They also made the most of their time at home.

So, with your drivers, make sure that rosters allow for adequate time off that can be spent with family. Wherever possible, arrange the shift schedule in a way that enables them to go home or arrange visitation without lengthy drives in between. This family time will improve their mental state, alleviate loneliness, and help keep them connected to those they love.

2) Promote The Idea of Exercise

One of the most effective ways of fighting depression is exercise, as this activity releases endorphins that induce a sense of well-being.  Unfortunately, as truck drivers are required to sit for hours on end, they don’t get much of a chance to work out.

In order to combat depression, a culture of stopping to take rest breaks that involve a walk or stretching in between should be promoted. Often, drivers are tempted to sit in their cabs when taking a break, which can be counterproductive as they feel worse from sitting for longer.

Encouraging company-wide activities, such as participating in a race, can encourage a healthy outlook on life.  A feeling of healthy competition can be a good motivator too, and this can be used to encourage drivers to stay fit if they feel they are competing with their peers.

3) Encourage a Healthy Diet

Another promoter of depression is the eating of junk food. This type of food induces an inflammatory response, making people more prone to suffering from this mental health disorder.

 Although truck drivers are often unable to find healthy food on the road, there are a few avenues that can be explored. One option is to install a small refrigerator in the truck so they can store fresh fruit and vegetables on long journeys.

If possible, an education program can be instituted that teaches drivers how to make healthier meals or better food choices. For example, instead of choosing a white bread sandwich, encourage them to choose brown or wholewheat bread. Another good alternative is choosing a salad with a burger as opposed to chips. In fact, burgers are good options as the protein in the patty does wonders for the driver’s mental alertness. It’s the fries that are the problem.

If there’s a canteen on the premises for those not on the road, it can be stocked with healthier options to promote the idea of better dietary choices. 

4) Create Conditions for Quality Sleep

In the study referenced earlier, 20.6% of the drivers surveyed reported suffering from chronic sleep disorders. And the longer that this happens, the more tired the drivers will become, making them extremely dangerous behind the wheel.

This means that drivers need a good night’s sleep to combat the effects of fatigue. If possible, get them to sleep in a motel where there’s a comfortable bed and a restful atmosphere. If they don’t stop near a motel, make sure that the truck is equipped with a decent bed, rather than just a reclining seat.

5) Educate About The Effects of Alcohol

It’s been proven that alcohol affects levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain. The effect of this is heightened anxiety. As can be seen from the above, this needs to be curbed in drivers as they suffer quite substantially from this ailment.

We’re not saying that you should forbid your truck drivers from drinking when off duty as this is simply not feasible. However, when they are working, you can enforce a breathalyzer test. This will drive home the point that a zero-alcohol tolerance policy is adhered to. It can be an opener to address how alcohol negatively affects the body and mind and can lead to depression.

Many people see suffering from mental disorders as a sign of weakness and a telltale indication for employers that they can’t do their jobs. However, a mental disease is just that – it’s a disease that can be controlled with medication and lifestyle changes.

By encouraging conversation around the topic and educating drivers about mental health, the stigma can be removed. Implementing an open-door policy and aiming to assist in any way possible may go a long way to curbing the depression rate or at least reducing the symptoms that truckers suffer from.

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