Tips for dealing with stress and depression on the road

We all know the life of a truck driver isn’t easy, with long hours, isolation and high-pressure environments contributing to stress, depression and anxiety. 

In Superfriend’s 2023 Indicators of a Thriving Workplace report, the transport and logistics sector was found to be the lowest ranked industry in Australia in terms of workplace mental health and wellbeing, with a thriving index score much lower than the national average at 65 out of 100. 

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Over 13.3 per cent of truckies suffer from depression, and male truck drivers under 35 are almost twice as likely as the wider male population to suffer serious mental distress. 

Drivers who have been diagnosed with depression are seven times more likely to be involved in a crash, and truck drivers have a disproportionately high risk of suicide when compared to other male-dominated occupations. 

These are worrying statistics, and yet there is still some reluctance amongst truckies to talk about their mental health. 

Battling the stigma 

Organisations like Healthy Heads in Trucks and Sheds are working hard to combat the stigma around mental health in the transport and logistics sector, with a host of resources available to drivers. 

Melissa Weller, Healthy Heads’ director of industry relations, tells Deals on Wheels: “Healthy Heads is very focused on continuing to create awareness and to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health in the transport and logistics sector. 

“We also need strong leadership in the industry, so people know it’s safe to reach out and they don’t need to fear repercussions such as job security. 

“We also promote education and understanding around mental health for individuals in the sector, and explain that everyone moves up and down the mental health continuum from thriving to unwell, throughout their lives, depending on a range of factors.”

Risk factors 

Mental health risk factors for drivers include long hours and fatigue, stressful job demands, exposure to trauma, isolation and disconnection. 

“There are a lot of pressures that drivers face every day,” Weller says.

“It’s a working environment where you don’t always feel like you have total control. 

“Road traffic, loading and unloading, or weather can throw your schedule out, causing stress to drivers. 

“Relationships with partners and family can also be difficult to manage when you spend long periods away from home and work variable shifts both day and night.”

“It’s OK not to be OK”

Weller says Healthy Heads wants to promote the idea that it’s OK not to be OK.  

“It is about recognising if you are starting to slip and taking action.

“Part of this is ensuring that everyone knows how they can access information and support. 

“Where they can go, who they contact and a level of self-awareness of signs and symptoms that they might be struggling.” 

Reaching out

Weller says men, in particular, are more likely to reach out for help if they know it’s confidential. 

“Through an independent organisation like TIACS for example, you can text or call and talk to a qualified counsellor for free who specifically understands the blue-collar environment – they are there for truckies, tradies, farmers and others. 

“At Healthy Heads, we also have information to help you support each other. This includes guides on how to have a conversation with a mate you think might be struggling.”

Staying connected

If you are struggling to juggle your job with your personal relationships, Weller recommends establishing a route to check in with them each day. 

“That way you don’t get distracted by work and miss out or forget, and you prioritise keeping in contact,” she says.

“Also, if your family know about what time you call each day, they will also get into a routine with you.”

She encourages truckies who might be feeling lonely to get in touch with someone they haven’t spoken to in a while. 

“This not only connects you to your network, but can be really mood enhancing and rewarding too,” she adds. 

Another good idea is to listen to driver podcasts. 

“This helps build feelings of community and camaraderie. Listening to stories and conversations that they can relate to makes them feel less alone.”

Lifestyle changes  

Making positive lifestyle changes can have a real impact on your mental health. The top three Weller recommends focusing on include sleeping well, eating well and exercising. 

“Aim for better quality sleep,” she says. “Small changes that might help include avoiding caffeine and sugary drinks in the afternoon. 

“Try and eat at least two hours before you go to bed, as a full stomach can make it hard to sleep well. If you find it hard to shut your mind off, try listening to quiet music or relaxing sounds. 

“Try the box breathing exercises on the Healthy Heads app – it only takes two minutes and can lower your heart rate and clear your thoughts.”

When it comes to nutrition, she says there is truth in the saying ‘good food, good mood’. 

“Our key happiness hormone serotonin is produced in our gut – the healthier your gut, the more serotonin you produce. 

“Try eating less fats, cut down on sugar and increase your vegetable intake. Swap soft drinks for a bottle of cold water – small changes that will help you feel better.”

She also recommends increasing your levels of physical exercise. 

“If you have been sitting all day, try some stretching exercises like the ones on our app. 

“Some of these you can do sitting in the truck. Keep a set of resistance bands in the glove box and use these daily, or travel with a skipping rope. 

“These are both small and easy to grab when you have stopped for a break.”

Free training 

Healthy Heads offers free training in mental health and wellbeing for drivers, professionally delivered by Lifeline Australia, Black Dog Institute and Mental Health First Aid Australia. 

If you would like to learn more about accessing these free courses, you can contact Healthy Heads at info@healthyheads.org.au

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