LEGAL SLAVERY CALLED TRUCKING
The US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistic deemed truck driving to be one of the most stressful occupations in America. This occupation is filled with consequences. Stress is even greater for truck drivers who are away from home and their families and friends for long periods of time, which can range from several days to many weeks. Truck drivers experience tremendous fatigue and sleep deprivation. Drivers’ efforts to comply with the companies’ rules of delivery and the hour of service rules have increased the level of stress associated with this occupation. The effects of being alone have had tremendous negative effects on the well-being of drivers.
As a returning veteran from the Vietnam War, I became an over the road truck driver and worked at this occupation for 30 years. I can personally relate to the similarities of how stress affects mental health and the affects it has on drivers. I suffered the high stress of this occupation and the effects of the depression brought on by the solitude involved with long periods of being away from home. I was disabled at the age of 52 from this occupation and received treatment from the VA (Veterans Administration). I also can relate to the PTSD from war and see the similarities from the stress of trucking occupation to the stress of what I faced while being a soldier in a war. Drivers reside at the bottom of the chain of command in fulfilling the demands to make deliveries on time, which also creates high stress. Many factors contribute to truck driver’s having high stress. These factors include driving time pressures; loneliness, boredom, financial issues, sleep deprivation, extreme fatigue, being away from home and loved ones. Drivers also face a variety of driving conditions such as driving in bad weather, being involved in road accidents, driving delays from road construction, road rage, driving in heavy city traffic, and the potential of becoming a crime victim.
There is an overall negative perception of truck drivers and most citizens, dislike truck drivers. This has a psychological effect on drivers; they feel as though they are society’s outcasts. At the top of the list of detrimental effects on truck drivers is the loneliness and depression that comes with this profession. It is, in fact, the number one cause of mental disorders for truckers. Caitlin Fehrenbacher, author of “Trucking Organization and Mental Health Disorders of Truck Drivers, concluded that drivers mental health was at risk; the study stated,
“Workers in this large and growing occupational segment are at risk for a range of occupational health-induced conditions, including mental health and psychiatric disorders
due to high occupational stress, low access and use of health care and limited social support. Depression is linked to the solitude drivers experience and is associated with the spending of lengthy periods away from home. Mental health promotion, assessment and treatment must become a priority to improve the overall trucking environment for truckers, the transportation industry, and safety on US highways.” (Fehrenbacher, Caitlin)
This was deemed factual from the two drivers I interviewed, who are now in mental health facilities in Vancouver, Washington. Mike Demarco was a driver for 13 years. He agreed to talk to me about how he ended up in a mental health facility. His story is that he was a truck driver who experienced mental health issues as a direct result of working as a truck driver. Demarco was married and has two sons. While he was employed as a long-haul driver, Demarco was the sole support for his family. He said, “I didn’t get home weekly and the stress was increasing from his spouse demanding him to get home, but I often could not because of the way my company dispatched me.” (Mike Demarco) Claiming he fell into a money trap of trying to support his family and pay the mortgage on his home, he was very close to living from paycheck to paycheck. So if he had tried to change jobs, the loss of income would have devastated his family. Because he did not have any extended time at home, he and his spouse experienced marriage issues. Missing his children’s birthdays and some holidays caused even more stress, and he became very depressed, especially when his children would call him and ask him when he would be home or to come home. He felt extremely alone and missed his family. The solitude of driving became unbearable at times, and he would experience fits of rage and crying spells, and he did not understand this behavior as the onset of mental health issues. After his wife filed for divorce, while driving to a delivery destination, he went to a rest area and sat there for 26 hours. He said, “I don’t know what happened. I just could not move or drive.” (Mike Demarco) His company sent another nearby driver to the rest area to check on him, and he was taken to the hospital. The stress of his marriage, his job, and the loneliness he was facing caused him to have a nervous breakdown. He is now in a mental health care facility (Mike Demarco).
Another driver I interviewed, Bill Hodgins, had been a driver for 17 years. I asked him how he came to be in a care facility. He said, “Because I was so lonely, I chose to turn prostitutes for companionship. I felt that I was driven to the use of prostitutes from the desperation I felt from being alone even though I knew how risky this behavior could be.” (Bill Hodgins) From being alone and away from his family and friends had a severe impact on the way he would think. Depression got so bad that he had a mental breakdown, and from the use of prostitutes he contracted AIDS, and is currently in a mental health care facility (Bill Hodgins).
Authors Pedro Felipe Carvalhedo de Bruin of the article. “Risk Factors for Depression in Truck Drivers stated:
“Depression is a major public health problem. It tends to have a chronic course,
produces disability and is associated with suicide. Identifying individuals at high
risk for depression is considered a priority. It has been shown that work stress is an
independent predictor of depression. Long haul truck drivers are commonly isolated
at work. Therefore, truckers should be regarded as a potentially vulnerable population.”
(Pedro Felipe Carvalhedo de Bruin)
Many drivers face anger problems resulting from missing loved ones at home along with domestic issues with spouses who are left alone, which leads to severe depression. Author Mary Griffin of Mental Health Nursing in her article, Occupational Stressors and the Mental Health of Truckers stated,
“The health of long-haul drivers needs to be examined with in the broader ecological context of the trucking sector, which includes geographic, social, and occupational
factors. Additionally, structural factors such as government regulations, trucking
operations, corporate trucking policies and regulations, as well.” (Griffin, Mary).
This is now an issue that needs to be addressed. The trucking industry has been overlooked as if this is a suitable way for the industry to operate. Fewer drivers now are members of unions than in the earlier years of 1970’s and 1980’s which created a loss of organization and support to drivers. The loss of unions laid the groundwork for companies to get around rules that are meant to ensure drivers were paid a proper wage and kept them from being out on the road to long. Lower wages cause drivers to spend more time on the road to make the wags necessary to support his or her family. The government’s regulation of the hours of service in place to regulate trucking does not address any mental health issues. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s position is that the hours of service rules are set to address drivers working excessive hours and government regulations have cut the driving hours to keep drivers from driving while exhausted. While the regulation of hours is a step in the right direction for drivers to get more rest, there is no concern for drivers’ mental health being recognized as a serious problem. This is not a problem that has been addressed in the changing of government rules and regulations. The health community has taken a serious look at the issue of truckers ‘mental health, expressing concerns, posting findings and warnings regarding the future of truck drivers, as it is becoming increasingly apparent that many drivers are experiencing mental health issues.
The mental health problems that truck drivers face because of loneliness and stress need to be seriously investigated, and a solution must be found to address them. The cost of care for drivers who have mental illnesses because of the stress connected to this occupation is going to become a financial burden on the public and could cause health care providers to become overloaded treating truck drivers suffering from mental illness. This situation is a potential time bomb, and we could be faced with the same burdensome health care costs as we are from soldiers returning from wars with PTSD.