Driver health issues now receive more attention and are given a higher priority than at any time in the past and that awareness continues to grow.
We tend to focus on the benefits of a healthy diet and regular exercise rather than on a driver’s mental and emotional health. If that space between our ears is out of tune, then finding the motivation to maintain our bodies can be difficult and even seem impossible at times.
This is a Catch-22. We know that exercise and a healthy diet boost our mental health but feelings of unhappiness, stress, and unease can make a bag of potato chips and soda in front of the TV seem like the best option to quench those feelings.
It’s also much easier to talk about physical health than mental health. Our individual feelings of discomfort are generated by many sources, some of which are deeply personal and private. This adds to the difficulty we find in starting a discussion or seeking help when it’s needed. When you take all of that and add in the solitary lifestyle of the commercial driver, you provide fertile ground for unhappiness and depression to take root.
I’ve been battling feelings of depression for the past year or two. It’s hard for me to say that. In my own mind I’ve just been calling it “unease” because it sounds so much better.
Admitting to feeling depressed feels like you’re admitting to a deep dark secret or some sort of major personality flaw.
In fact though, it is only when you face up to that depression and talk about it that you come to understand where it is coming from.
For me, depression is rooted in burnout and fatigue. I think that many professional drivers suffer from burnout and fatigue for varying periods of time. We just call it “the blues.”
I’m not going to play the role of an armchair psychiatrist here. I don’t possess the qualifications nor the training to offer sound mental health advice.
I can, however, present one driver’s perspective on what I believe are some of the pervasive practices and cultural norms within the trucking industry that lead to burnout, stress, and depression.
The 60-70 hour work week
This is so obvious we don’t recognize it as a major problem. We compound the problem as drivers by pushing inefficiencies like dock delays into our “off-duty” time. This has become an accepted practice within the industry.
We are classed as unskilled workers but held to account for our actions like highly skilled, well trained professionals. This is a paradox and leads to a good deal of anxiety, especially for new and novice drivers. Ongoing driver training is poor in this industry. Initial training and accreditation is pathetic in comparison to the high level of enforcement and accountability drivers face from a multitude of enforcement agencies as well as internal industry policies and audits.
Salary and compensation
It’s shrinking year by year as responsibility and accountability increases. Drivers have no option but to stay on the road longer adding to burnout and fatigue.
Mergers and acquisitions
Nothing adds to your stress level like not knowing if you’re going to have a job next week. If you do will you go from being a person to a number? Will you be expected to give up some of your compensation and benefits gained through hard work, dedication, and experience for the shareholder that just funded the buyout?
Technology and big data
This should be making our jobs easier and more enjoyable but it’s not. It seems to be the basis for greater “safety through enforcement” which simply pisses drivers off rather engaging them in a safety culture. I may be over the top with that statement. I enjoy the technological advances on many fronts but the enforcement culture is killing the benefits.
Hours of service
All that can be said here is that if you want to burn people out as quickly as you possibly can, simply force them to rest when they don’t need to and make them work when they are ready to rest.
These are just some of the issues I think we all face as commercial drivers when it comes to dealing with burnout, fatigue, and depression. If they are not a direct cause of depression they will compound problems individuals are facing in their personal lives. This is especially true in the area of personal relationships and personal finance.
The bottom line for me is always the issue of time. Having enough of it available to care for myself and for my immediate family is a challenge to say the least. Maybe you’re feeling the same way.
Al Goodhall has been a professional long-haul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his ‘Over the Road’ blog at http://truckingacrosscanada.blogspot.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.