Long-haul trucking is one of the highest-risk occupations in the United States (US Dept. of Labor.) Truck drivers often experience a great deal of on-the-job stress which places them at-risk for social, psychological and psychiatric issues such as depression, substance abuse, risky sexual behaviors and even suicide. Occupational stress is even higher for truck drivers who are away from home and family for long periods of time.
A compounding factor to occupational stress is that truck drivers often have limited access to utilize health care while on the road. Many truck drivers who need mental health support find it difficult to admit they need help; Federal licensing requirements that drivers be “mentally fit” make it seem risky to drivers for drivers who may be experiencing problems to seek assistance.
Truck drivers often experience significant fatigue and sleep loss due to the government’s “hours of service” (HOS) requirements that are used to regulate the trucking industry. These regulations force drivers to significantly disrupt their natural circadian rhythms (Heaton, 2005.) This disruption, along with increased levels of stress and a sedentary lifestyle negatively impact the health of drivers. Truckers work long hours and are forced to drive while tired in order to make their deliveries on time.
Truckers report many stressors that are factors of their occupation, including:
- Time pressure
- Financial pressures
- Fatigue and lack of sleep
- Being away from home
- Driving conditions such as bad weather, accidents, highway construction
- Road rage
- City traffic
- Violence (getting robbed or mugged or a victim of assault)
- Dangers at truck stops and shipping and receiving warehouses
- Racism and discrimination
- Negative perceptions of truck drivers held by the public (i.e. rednecks, trucker haters, etc.)
Due to these factors, truck drivers have startlingly high mortality and morbidity rates. Access to health care, including mental health care, needs to be addressed and improved for the truck drivers of America, who are essential to our country and our economy. There are initiatives to look at ways to facilitate truck driver health care through innovative delivery methods such as appropriate parking, health fairs at truck stops and truck shows and telehealth technology that has the potential to connect truck drivers to remote mental health clinics located at truck stops.