How Mental Illness Affects Driving

About 18.2% of the adult population in the United States suffers from some form of mental illness. That’s equal to about 42.5 million people! There is a wide array of mental health conditions, ranging from mild anxiety to severe psychotic disorders that require hospitalization. An individual’s experience with their mental illness is unique, and the symptoms, causes, and treatment vary from person-to-person.

Many people live with stress-triggered anxiety or sporadic bouts of depression-like sadness.  People with mental illnesses, though, face these obstacles every day, in every aspect of their lives.  Mental illness affects school and work, creativity and productivity, and can impact a person’s social life and personal relationships. One impact of the challenges of mental health that goes unnoticed, however, is its effect on driving.

Mental Illness And Driving Risk

The mental illnesses thought to present the highest risking for driving are:

  • Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that causes swings from extreme happiness and activity (manic behavior) to extreme sadness (depressive behavior). Both manic and depressive states can lead to a lack of focus or concentration, which may affect driving. Some people with bipolar disorder also exhibit suicidal tendencies, or are prone to reckless, sudden decisions.
  • Schizophrenia, and other disorders that causes psychosis, are serious disorders that have an impact on all aspect of a person’s life, including driving. Schizophrenia may cause delusions, hallucinations, and other abnormal interpretations of reality.
  • Personality disorders occur when a person exhibits behavior that is decidedly different from the actions accepted as socially normal. There is a wide range of personality disorders, but they can all affect a person’s driving ability by leading to aggressive or angry behavior, emotional overreactions, or inability to understand the consequences of their actions.

However, these are just a few examples. Since everyone reacts to mental illness in different ways, some people may not notice any difference in their driving abilities, while others could be hugely impacted.

Medications for mental illness also play a role. Some people take antidepressants or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to cope with everyday anxiety or depression, while others may take antipsychotic medication or mood stabilizers. Like medications for physical health conditions, mental health prescriptions can have an impact on driving. Side effects of medication can include

  • Drowsiness
  • Lack of focus
  • Inability to pay attention
  • Blurred vision
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Dizziness


None of these things, however, mean that people with a mental illness should immediately have their driving licenses revoked. If your suffer from a mental illness, you should, though, talk honestly with your doctor or other healthcare provider about how it may affect your driving. If you are feeling unwell or incapable of driving, do not drive. Make sure a family member, trusted friend, or other caregiver knows about your mental illness, and inform them of how to help you.

If you live with a mental illness, or know someone who does, you know that everyday activities, like driving, are sometimes more of a challenge.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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