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Mental and Emotional Health in the Trucking Industry in the Wake of Covid-19

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Families in the trucking industry are all too familiar with saying goodbye. Many truck drivers are away for days at a time, working long past the traditional 9-5. Loneliness is par for the course, but what about isolation? The last two years have been hard on humanity, with the trucking industry shouldering an oversized load of the burden. A study out of California found that excess mortality due to the impact of COVID-19 was around 28% among transportation/logistics workers, one of the highest of any occupation in the state. In an industry that is already plagued with metabolic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity- COVID presents a formidable risk.

Mental health in trucking needs serious attention

Depressive Symptoms

Truck drivers, and more specifically long haul truck drivers, have been found to be at increased risk for depressive symptoms. Research has suggested that work-related stressors like social isolation and poor sleep patterns are endemic to the long-haul trucking sector and increase the likelihood of depression. In fact, one study shows that drivers who reported broken sleep were more than 5 times as likely to battle depression. An increased risk, compounded with up to 43% of drivers who did not have employment-based health benefits, means the burden falls directly on drivers and their families. Many drivers look forward to the social camaraderie that happens at truck stops, diners, and fuel stations. Often this is the only human interaction a driver may have for 6-12 hours. Unfortunately, COVID-19 ended that.

With drivers struggling to find a place to get food, or even use the restroom, any chances of human interaction were all but destroyed. Ina trade that already leans toward chances of depression and isolation, COVID shoved it right over. To add further insult to injury, many drivers felt they were unable to go home, concerned about putting their families at risk. For an industry where family time is already a strain, COVID only complicates matters. It sounds dire, but it was projected to only be temporary. As the weeks dragged on, many went months without seeing family or friends. Saddled with the important job of moving life-saving supplies, the trucking industry had a little reprieve.

COVID Concerns

In a study looking at the perceived risk and safety precautions of the trucking industry, a common theme emerged. The drivers that were most concerned (and subsequently followed the precautions the most) were generally older, held higher levels of education, had poorer health overall, and reported having a reduced quality of life during the pandemic. These stats speak volumes about the pandemic’s effect on the industry. Older people, especially with underlying health concerns, are at an increased risk of severe illness or death. It makes sense that these drivers were the most concerned and careful about Covid-19 and its risks. This group also reported the impact of Covid-19 updates in both Canada and the United States. This checking is helpful but can also increase anxiety and worry.

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The study cited a few concerned driver’s thoughts:

“besides I don’t want to get sick thousands of miles from home or in another country”

“Would have to isolate in the truck away from family and help.

“No access to food services, meds or other things”

“Because I’m the bread winner and my family depend on me”

“Don’t want to bring it back to my family”

Thoughts like these can be extremely stressful. Every stop suddenly poses a real threat that could affect the driver and their loved ones. The fear of getting or spreading illness is only one issue. Finding a safe place to sleep, shower, and eat became a daily battle. Politically, trucking became a COVID hot topic. Drivers were suddenly catapulted into the media in both the U.S. and Canada. The hardworking individuals that were carrying vital supplies throughout the pandemic(at their own risk) were suddenly villainized. All of these events carry immense weight whether acknowledged or not. With hours of solitude in the truck to mull over the events and listen to the news, the toll on the mental and emotional health of drivers should not be underestimated.

Moving Forward

As we enter this next phase of the virus, we are fortunate enough to be armed with both more information and more choices. Drivers that are at risk of severe disease are able to be vaccinated to prevent hospitalization or death. Both vaccines and antivirals like Paxlovid are readily available to those that need or want them. Society is seeing a reduction in hospital load due to increased immunity through infection and vaccination. This opens up beds for those that have needed them for issues like cardiovascular events, diabetes complications, and other normal health crises. The mental and emotional effects of this pandemic will be felt throughout the industry and world for many years to come. Both allopathic medicine and complementary alternative tools will be vital to getting us all back on the road to wellness.

References

  • Crizzle, A. M., McLean, M., & Malkin, J. (2020). Risk Factors for Depressive Symptoms in Long-Haul Truck Drivers. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(11), 3764. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17113764
  • Crizzle A. M. (2022). Health and Safety Practices and Perceptions of COVID-19 in Long-Haul Truck Drivers. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine, 64(2), 173–178. https://doi.org/10.1097/JOM.0000000000002426
  • Chen, Y., Glymour, M., Riley, A., … Bibbins-Domingo, K. (2021) Excess mortality associated with the COVID-19 pandemic among Californians 18–65 years of age, by occupational sector and occupation: March through October 2020. medRxiv 2021.01.21.21250266; doi:https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.21.21250266

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