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Supporting Mental Health in Truck Drivers

October is Depression Awareness Month, and depression is particularly common among truck drivers. A study of long-haul truck drivers found that nearly half (44%) reported symptoms of depression in the previous year. Plenty of companies claim to treat drivers “like family,” but how many actively help drivers with depression and mental health problems? Several aspects of the trucking lifestyle contribute to depression:

  • Isolation from Family and Friends
  • Fatigue and Trouble Sleeping
  • Unhealthy Food, Difficulty Exercising
  • Changing Industry – ELDs, DFCs, Speed Limiters

Trucker News posted an online poll with the question “Are trucking companies doing enough to support drivers' mental health?” With more than 400 responses, over 90% said "no.” A few drivers voiced additional frustration in their comments on the poll. CrazyoleBadluck replied, “I’m shocked that this is even a survey. In my 30+ years of driving I’ve never had a company even care much less do anything for a driver’s mental or physical health.” Each company has its own strengths, but it's fair to say that many employers could do more to help drivers with depression.

Dr. Chuck Hollister, a licensed psychologist and clinical social worker, gave an interview with the WorkSAFE Podcast of Missouri Employers Mutual. Dr. Hollister offered his perspective on the unique importance and strains of professional truck driving. According to his estimates:

Nearly 20 percent of truckers are experiencing some sort of mental health issue.

Between 20 to 25 percent of truckers report that they have difficult family relationships.

About 70 percent of truckers report trauma or loss issues.

The lifestyle of CDL truck drivers is stressful and isolated. OTR drivers may not see family members for weeks at a time, and the sedentary lifestyle takes a physical toll on your body. How can trucking companies get better at supporting their drivers?

Driver Education

Use your regular safety reminders to shine a spotlight on mental health. Depressed drivers are less motivated about safety. You can connect drivers with pamphlets, podcasts, and other resources to promote mental health. The 988 crisis hotline is a national resource that’s just a text or phone call away.

Flexible Home Time

It’s hard for drivers to be stuck working during family emergencies (and positive milestones like graduation ceremonies). Can your company be more flexible about getting drivers back home when it matters? How does your company involve and support the families of employees?

Build Support Networks

Training and mentorship shouldn’t end a month after onboarding. Build up team leaders and future managers, providing training for the most reliable members of your fleet. Train dispatchers to recognize emotional fatigue and look out for driver wellbeing. Mutual support promotes a healthier workplace culture.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) gives access to counselling services, financial or legal advice, and educational resources. EAPs help resolve the personal issues that become huge distractions at work. Virtual therapy services like BetterHelp (and insurance-friendly alternatives like Talkspace) can be reached online or by phone.

Exercise and Nutrition

Get creative in your response to obesity, diabetes, sleep apnea, and smoking. Physical health problems (and medical bills) feed directly into mental health struggles. Provide reduced-cost gym memberships or access to workout videos as employee benefits. Encourage adequate sleep and personal fitness in your company culture.

Pet and Rider Policies

OTR drivers get lonely on the road, and pets like small dogs can make a big difference. A rider policy opens other possibilities, taking a friend or family member along. Either way, you’ll need to think about liability waivers and other paperwork that comes before a major policy change.

image shows depressed man with text about supporting mental health in truck drivers

More Resources:

“Truck Drivers and Mental Health” DAT October 11, 2022

“Mental Health in Trucking: 5 Ways to Support Stressed Drivers” Missouri Employers Mutual April 1, 2022

Achelpohl, Scott “Many drivers can only dream of a full night's sleep” Fleet Owner Magazine. Sept. 11, 2023

Achelpohl, Scott “The Isolation of the Road” Fleet Owner Magazine. Sept. 7, 2023