Life on the road is one of those realities that for some truckers is a real blessing and for others it is a curse. Long days spent in total isolation from the family, your friends and the things that you love can be very difficult. In addition if you are an OTR trucker with the long, long routes and you are away from home for weeks at a time, you may begin to feel isolated from the family, even when you are home.
This is not as uncommon as you may think, but it is something that is rarely discussed. Drivers that feel isolated and truly alone, not having that common ground with their spouse and family, need to be cautious and become aware of the symptoms of depression. Depression can occur to anyone at any time of life and new research shows many of the conditions experienced by truckers are linked with the development of depression.
The Reasons Behind The Risk
There are many different factors that researchers have shown to have an impact on the mental health status of those in the trucking industry. These factors include:
• Irregular sleep patterns
• Poor access to health care
• Low levels of emotional and social support
• High levels of occupational stress
• Long work hours
• Low job satisfaction
• Irregular scheduling
• Infrequent contact with family
It is not just occasion exposure to these risk factors, it is almost continual exposure. Many truckers have little or no control over their schedule and may be required to start work at 2 in the morning one day and then at lunch a couple of days later. Home time may be disrupted with “on call” requirements and, even with a 14 hour maximum working day, sleep may not be easy to come by.
In addition the job itself is mentally exhausting. There is the boredom of driving down those endless roads listening to nothing but your favorite music or some local radio station. While new technology allows you to stay in touch with family and friends, it is not the same as being there in person. Their reality of daily life is very different than yours, almost as if you are living a foreign life to them.
In study published in Issues in Mental Health Nursing in 2012 it was found that of 316 male truckers interviewed 27.9% indicated they felt lonely, 26.9% reported feelings of depression, 20.9% indicated chronic pharma problems and almost 19% self-reported issues with chronic fatigue and low energy. In addition almost 50% reported feeling agitated and just under 42% of the truckers interviewed said they found it hard to wind down when they were not driving.
It is important to note that the 26.9% of truckers that reported feelings of depression is significantly higher than in the general population. Within the non-trucker sector depression rates for men is about 4.8% of the general US based population.
The same study went on to show that truckers do not report the symptoms of depression to their doctors or to their spouses and partners. Many assume that the symptoms they are experiencing are just a result of the lifestyle and do not realize that minor lifestyle changes and support may be all that is required to turn these symptoms around. Fear of being required to take medications may also prohibit many truckers from seeking help.
Symptoms To Watch For
There is no one symptom for depression that is more critical to watch for than the others. Rather, it is essential to seek help if you have more than one or two of these symptoms or if you have very negative feelings towards yourself, your job or your life. Any thoughts or ideas about hurting yourself or others are a crucial factor and you should seek help immediately if you are experiencing those thoughts or ideations.
Common symptoms that may indicate depression include:
• Low energy levels and mental fatigue
• Difficulties in concentrating
• Changes in eating and appetite
• Feelings of overwhelming or constant pessimism or negativity
• Inability to effectively make decisions
• Muscle and joint pains, headaches and neck and back pains not from an injury
• Digestive problems that are not a result of a medical condition
• Anger, irritability and the inability to enjoy things you have liked in the past
• Problems with interpersonal relationships
These symptoms may be mild to severe but they are persistent. Early recognition and treatment is beneficial for all signs and symptoms of depression.
There are some genetic components to depression so if there is a history in the family, or even if there isn’t, being proactive about lowering your risk factors for depression while on the road is a great idea.
Some simple tips include:
• Have a regular, daily conversation with your spouse, partner, kids, friends and those that you care about. The more you reach out and interact, even if it is by phone or the internet, the less you will feel isolated and lonely.
• Exercise regularly as exercise helps to boost the levels of the positive brain chemicals, endorphins, that boost your mood as well as your levels of physical energy.
• Eat healthier and say within your recommended weight. Positive self-esteem and self-image can help to prevent negativity and self-destructive types of thinking.
• Have a positive hobby you enjoy that can go on the road. This allows you to stay busy doing something you enjoy in your down time.
• Take an online course, read a good book, or get active in an online discussion about areas that you are passionate about and that you know are important in your life.
In addition, make sure that you stay healthy and get medical treatment for any injuries or illness. Staying healthy physically is important as chronic worry about your health is never good for you either physically or mentally.