Depression: Driven to despair

| December 04, 2001

“I try to work hard enough that I don’t remember the depression,” the Kansas resident says. “The harder it gets, the harder I work. I work, and I lie down, and I work and lie down. I have a new pickup truck, but I may not drive it for two weeks.”

Significant health problems add to his despair but are not as problematic as the job issues, says the father of four grown children and two adopted sons. Increasing costs and stagnant pay worsen his lifelong battle with depression. “The truck driver has no way of demanding or getting a better wage,” Billman says.

Hunter, head of Truckstop Ministries, says he understands those financial pressures.

“They’re depressed because of the economy – especially owner-operators,” he says. “The trucking industry is having problems, and it rocks back to the little man or little woman. It goes down to the company driver. Loads are fewer and farther apart. There’s a lot more sitting.”

It can be a vicious circle, Hunter says. “Dispatch says, ‘We have a hot load,’ and the driver is running out of hours. But if he has an accident, he can be out of a job. If he turns it down, he can lose favoritism.”

A third of respondents to Overdrive‘s reader survey believe that truckers are more depressed than people in other occupations.

Separation from family is the biggest cause of depression Hunter sees and also one of the top two factors in depression cited by respondents to the Overdrive survey. “They want to provide well, and the only way to do that is to run a lot of miles,” Hunter says. More miles means more time away from home. “Loneliness leads to depression.”

Owner-operator Tony Konieska says he was depressed last spring when he did not get enough time home with his family. “I didn’t want to get out of bed,” the Minnesota resident says. “Loads I would normally take, I didn’t want to bother with, such as partials. I got more irritable at traffic. I lacked energy, enthusiasm.”

Negative interaction with others and career limitations can sour your attitude, says Konieska, a trucker since 1976. “I can deal with the bad food, but I have to watch out for somebody hitting my truck or somebody trying to rob me or to break into my truck when I come out of a truck stop,” Konieska says. “Everything spirals. Most people move up in their jobs, they’re progressing, but in truck driving you can’t. You get more cynical when you get older.”

Michelle Gann of Mississippi drives team with her husband, Marcus, during the summer and works part time for his carrier, T.E.M. Transport, while her son is in school. She says she and her husband have suffered depression, though improved communication between them has helped the problem.

Michelle Gann’s depression has manifested itself as sleep problems. The illness often takes a form other than sadness, such as sleeplessness or sleepiness, anger, road rage or withdrawal, says Rodney Lowman of the California School of Professional Psychology, an authority on occupational mental health. “People who are in jobs like truck driving have some susceptibility to depression by being away from family for long periods of time, and not having the normal support networks,” Lowman says.

Owner-operator Tony Sellars covers his depression by staying busy and joking when home in Kentucky with his wife and two school-aged children. “My wife says I’m never serious,” Sellars says. “I try not to let her know, because if I get down, then she’s going to get down.”

Americans have difficulty accepting they are depressed, says psychologist Karen Shanor. “In this culture, saying ‘I am depressed’ is saying ‘I am out of control,’ especially for traditional males,” Shanor says. “They feel they have to present themselves as strong and capable. Truckers are mobile and reticent to go into any kind of therapy.”

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