More Than Just the Blues
By Sandy Long
The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has added testing for depression to its medical survey of truck drivers. This follows along with the recent recommendation of the FMCSA Medical Review Board (MRB) that suggests American truck drivers be screened for depression and other mental illnesses as part of the medical qualification physicals. While the FMCSA has yet to act on the Board’s recommendations, it is most likely to do so sooner rather than later.
While everyone suffers from some level of occasional depression in their lives, perhaps a loved one dies, or a relationship is in trouble, these ‘blue’ days are not what are being talked about. What the ATA and the MRB is referring to is the debilitating type of depression caused by mental illness such as one being diagnosed as bi-polar or suffering from major depression that can radically affect ones job performance and safety. What is bi-polar or major depression?
From About.com: “Bipolar disorder causes dramatic mood swings—from overly “high” and/or irritable to sad and hopeless, and then back again, often with periods of normal mood in between. Severe changes in energy and behavior go along with these changes in mood. The periods of highs and lows are called episodes of mania and depression.” “Major depressive disorder is a mood disorder characterized by a depressed mood, a lack of interest in activities normally enjoyed, changes in weight and sleep, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, difficulty concentrating and thoughts of death and suicide. If a person experiences the majority of these symptoms for longer than a two-week period, they may be diagnosed with major depressive disorder.”
Other types of mental illness can affect ones job and safety also. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, often found in combat veterans or survivors of wrecks, crime or abuse, Panic Disorder, Anxiety Disorder and some Phobias to name the most common ones.
As recently as 30 years ago, having a mental illness carried a social stigma and many people would not go for treatment. Since then however, with the development of new treatment protocols and medications, this stigma has almost totally disappeared.
Most depressive disorders and stress disorders can be treated with medication and perhaps some talk therapy with a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist or councilor. Many councilors will work with patients over the phone after an initial face to face visit and there are mental health clinics in most medium sized towns and hot lines available too.
Medication for mental illness is slightly more difficult to deal with as drivers. Many have side effects such as drowsiness and can cause stomach upset and a lessening of alertness. Also, some medications require adjusting as the time taking them lengthens so repeat visits to doctors are mandatory at specified times. Some side effects go away as medicine levels increase in ones body.
Because of the above, the ATA suggests, and I am sure that the FMCSA will, if they make checking for depression part of the physical, require a period of time where the driver is considered unfit to drive until the effects of the medication is known.
Many famous people suffer from mental illness; Van Gogh, Mozart, John F Kennedy to name a couple along with millions of other just plain folk who, with treatment, go on to lead normal productive lives. Truck drivers can function quite well having some mental illnesses such as bi-polarism or major depression; with treatment.
If you think you might be suffering some on-going depression in your life, or if you have major mood swings, get a jump on the regulations and talk to your family doctor first and if he/she agrees that you might have a mental illness, have them refer you to a mental health professional to start treatment before the regulations force you to do so.
Always remember, there is no shame in being mentally ill, only shame in today’s world for not getting treatment for it.
American Counseling Association 800-347-6647 www.counseling.org
National Mental Health Association 800-969-NMHA (6642)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK (8255)