Depression: Driven to despair

| December 04, 2001

More men resist help than women, Hunter says. “That’s the biggest problem – getting them to say ‘I need help.’” Some truckers reach out only as their last resort, says Hunter, who gets a suicidal caller almost every month.

Hallmarks of depression include ongoing feelings of sadness and hopelessness, not enjoying what you used to enjoy, Shanor says. Other symptoms include confusion; changes in appetite, sex drive or sleep habits; and increased use of substances such as alcohol or cigarettes.

“Some people drink or abuse drugs because they are depressed, and some are depressed because they drink or use drugs,” says Boston psychiatrist William Appleton. “In either case, the depression itself needs treatment.”

Sellars, who leases to T.M.T., notices changes in his eating habits. “When I start getting depressed, I eat a lot, even though I’m not really big,” he says. “I’ll eat until I’m miserable.”

He says after 28 years as a trucker, he sees depression as the accumulation of smaller stressors. “You worry about bills at home; you worry about the family and if you’ll have enough money if the truck breaks down,” Sellars says. “When I leave home, I don’t know if I’ll be back. You see all these wrecks, and you have close calls. It builds into sadness.”

Extended stress takes a heavy toll, says Robert Epstein, executive editor of Psychology Today. “Excessive and prolonged stress weakens our immune system, increases our risk of heart disease and cancer, impairs our mood and performance, disturbs our sleep, contributes to sexual dysfunction, destroys relationships, and generally makes us miserable.”

“Today’s stresses are mostly mental or emotional, yet they cause the same physiological reactions that physical challenges do,” says neuropsychologist Preston. “People who are frequently stressed are overexposed to the potent hormones and chemicals that put the body on alert. Eventually, these substances can damage the body.”

“Depression is the extreme end of stress,” says psychologist Nancy Frasure-Smith of McGill University in Montreal. “When a person is already vulnerable, for whatever reason, stress is that proverbial final straw.”

Hard work can be stressful, but the work itself may not be the only job-related source of stress. “The feeling of lack of control over conditions that affect you is the worst stressor of all,” says psychiatrist Lauren Marrengel of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Again, truckers are particularly at risk because a good bit of their life is dictated by others. For example, dock time – waiting, loading and unloading – is largely unpredictable and unpaid, determined by neither the trucker nor his carrier, and excessive (35 hours a week for dry van haulers, according to the Truckload Carriers Association). The variable schedules required by some carriers leave truckers little say in scheduling time off.

“Some may feel the control is outside themselves, and that tends to make you passive,” says Patrick Doyle, executive director of the Eagan Council Clinic in Eagan, Minn. For example, when a long-haul trucker’s wife is the primary decision-maker in the home, this can make the trucker feel he has little say in his own household. Early studies of fishing villages, Doyle says, show there was usually conflict when the men returned home from long fishing trips.

The loss of control becomes apparent in the way some truckers’ anger spills over.

“Listen to the CB,” Konieska says. “Their attitude toward each other is bad; the language is vulgar. They can’t vent at the shipper or receiver, so they vent against someone who has no outcome on their livelihood. You see guys pulling over and fighting.”

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