All month long in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’ve been shining a light on the subject of mental health. We hope that by talking about mental health more, especially driver mental health and wellness, the industry as a whole can better support those suffering with anxiety, depression and burn-out. In 2019, life-long trucker Dana Smith founded his company The Mindful Trucker, with partner Stephanie Allen, a therapist and leadership trainer, to address the very things he struggled with during his trucking career: high levels of stress, weeks spent far from family and friends, and a feeling of being isolated. When we recently spoke with Dana, he told us about the breaking point in his own trucking career, why he founded the Mindful Trucker and how the industry can better support the mental wellness of people working in transportation.

The Forgotten Ones

Dana started driving a commercial truck when he was 20, driving locally in Eastern Canada and then branching out to long-haul team driving all over the United States and Canada. Being away from home a lot and running 1,000s of miles every week was an eye-opener for Dana. He loved what he was doing but got burned out quickly and had to restructure the way he was working.

Dana eventually transitioned to running as an owner operator with three trucks and working a full-time company job hauling fuel at the same time. Dana was working 100 plus hours every week trying to keep things going. He eventually experienced such high levels of stress that he ended up in the hospital. That moment changed his life. Dana came out of the hospital feeling like he needed to make a change. Otherwise, he felt like he would end up running himself into the ground and would work himself to death.  

After leaving the hospital, Dana sold his trucks and started working as a company driver on a government long combination vehicle (LCV) pilot project hauling two 53-foot trailers hooked together. He spent 12 years doing mostly local LCV work throughout Eastern Canada, but eventually found himself feeling frustrated and bored, like a hamster on a wheel. He didn’t feel valued even though he was doing what he loved. He thought it was the company he was working for at the time, but it turned out to be something much bigger than that.

Dana met his wife who is a therapist/leadership trainer and together they came up with the idea to start The Mindful Trucker. Dana became a certified relationship coach and left the company he’d been driving with to work full-time on The Mindful Trucker. Dana pairs the relationship coaching values of respect and connection with his love of trucking. Partnering with nutritionists, fitness professionals, and other health and wellness experts, Dana provides health, safety, training and wellness support to trucking companies and drivers.

“There are so many different people in the supply chain and they’re kind of the forgotten ones because the general public doesn’t see them,” Dana said. “When someone goes to the grocery store and they buy that container of milk, they don’t necessarily think about how it got there. There are many hands in the supply chain that brought that product to you. There’s a customer service person, a load planner, a dispatcher, a driver and someone who takes it off the truck. I get really frustrated with that sometimes and it’s why The Mindful Trucker came about. I want to educate people so they understand these are actual people, they do have feelings and they want to be valued. That’s really where this came from.”

“There are so many different people in the supply chain and they’re kind of the forgotten ones because the general public doesn’t see them,” Dana said. “When someone goes to the grocery store and they buy that container of milk, they don’t necessarily think about how it got there. There are many hands in the supply chain that brought that product to you. There’s a customer service person, a load planner, a dispatcher, a driver and someone who takes it off the truck. I get really frustrated with that sometimes and it’s why The Mindful Trucker came about. I want to educate people so they understand these are actual people, they do have feelings and they want to be valued. That’s really where this came from.”

Supporting Trucker Mental Health and Wellness

Dana’s experience driving a commercial big rig for more than 30 years makes him relatable, which is important in his work with drivers and carriers. During the pandemic, he’s been a source of support to drivers who’ve had trouble accessing food during lockdowns or who in the early days of the pandemic were stressed about going home and potentially making their loved ones sick. Throughout the pandemic, Dana also offered free coaching to Celadon trucking employees who found themselves stranded and jobless across the United States when the company shut down.

“Truck drivers have been out there delivering goods throughout the entire pandemic,” Dana shared. “They’re the heroes. When I talk to truckers, it’s just an appreciation that someone is actually listening to them. A lot of times when they’re driving for companies, they feel that they’re not being heard and that they’re just a number. They’re just a warm body in the seat. Until that changes and companies start standing up and saying, ‘Hey, these are my people,’ I need to look after them. That’s what The Mindful Trucker is all about and that’s what we can help with. I may not see always see a return in monetary value when doing this kind of work, but that’s not why I started The Mindful Trucker in the first place. I know I’m reaching people and I know that I’m making a difference to somebody, even if it’s only one person.”

According to Dana, mental wellness and employee assistance programs can be a great source of support for drivers. He wishes that trucking companies had someone who could do an in-person or phone check-in with drivers every so often to make sure that they’re feeling connected and appreciated for the work they do. For fleets that are focused on driver recruitment and retention, Dana had some words of advice.

“If you want to keep your drivers, you need to do three things: listen to them, connect with them and value them,” Dana said. “If you do those three things, they’ll stick around. If you don’t, they’re going to walk to the next guy. Pay attention to the driver, the little guy that’s doing that job for you every day. Reach out to him and ask him if he’s struggling with anything because when a driver has a connection like that with someone in your company who really actually cares like I do, that driver will go to the end of the earth for you and your company.”

“If you want to keep your drivers, you need to do three things: listen to them, connect with them and value them,” Dana said. “If you do those three things, they’ll stick around. If you don’t, they’re going to walk to the next guy. Pay attention to the driver, the little guy that’s doing that job for you every day. Reach out to him and ask him if he’s struggling with anything because when a driver has a connection like that with someone in your company who really actually cares like I do, that driver will go to the end of the earth for you and your company.”

To learn more about Dana and The Mindful Trucker, visit https://themindfultrucker.com.

Read our interview with “Dr. Mona Shattell on Trucker Mental Health and Where To Get Help.”