Mental illness and driving: what’s the connection?

Does driving impact mental health?

Yes, it seems likely that there is a connection.

A 2016 study by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health examined how not having the ability to drive affected U.S. adults aged 55 and older.

The study found that losing the ability to drive “nearly doubled the risk of depressive symptoms.”

“For many older adults, driving is more than a privilege; it is instrumental to their daily living and is a strong indicator of self-control, personal freedom, and independence,” Dr. Guohua Li, Mailman School professor of Epidemiology and senior author said in a statement on the university’s website.

This study presents a connection between what the loss of driving and what it represents (independence and personal freedom) to experiencing depression.

Should mental health be considered when handing out licenses?

I stumbled across an article from the Houston Chronicle published in 2014 about mental health questions being on driver’s license tests. And this brought up an interesting subject: should restrictions be placed on people who have certain mental illnesses when it comes to driving?

It’s a pretty common sense idea that you shouldn’t drive if you’re in an emotionally vulnerable state. In fact, my driver license manual states:

“You cannot drive well if you are angry, excited, worried or depressed.”

Allowing your emotions to cloud your judgement can lead to making mistakes while driving.

But does having a mental illness present enough of a danger to deny someone their license?

In 2015, that same Texas law initially denied a teen her license after she disclosed that she had been diagnosed with depression and was taking medication.

Questions about mental health are on the application for licenses in several states and have been for years. But many view them as antiquated and ineffective, as well as adding to the stigma associated with mental illness.

According to the Arizona Center for Disability Law (the state that I’m from), even a person with a serious mental illness has a right to have a driver’s license (unless you are under guardianship).

Ultimately, it’s up to the individual to recognize when they are not in the best mental state and are not safe to drive.

RELATED: How not knowing how to drive makes me depressed


One thought on “Mental illness and driving: what’s the connection?

  1. Mindfump says:

    This is an interesting read. I also think that it is true what you wrote about ‘what it represents’. Specifically because I think in the US cities are designed as such (apart from a small few) that a car is your connection to the rest of the city. Or that has been my experience anyway. Great post.


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