Over 46 per cent of transport workers experience a mental health condition and nearly one in five of them believe their work is to blame. But only 10 per cent of truck drivers actually seek treatment for the signs of mental illness, such as feeling anxious, unhappy, or other subtle changes in feelings, thoughts or behaviour.
One of Australia’s most vital, yet loneliest, industries is suffering from a mental health crisis – now more than ever. Long hours, stressful conditions, isolation, poor roadside sustenance and macho attitudes have contributed to mental illness in the truck industry going unnoticed.
While the Australian government has committed to introduce an unprecedented $5.7 billion on mental health, truck operators and managers must take the initiative and not take their employees’ mental health for granted. While a pledge of more budget toward mental health support is a positive move forward, doing something now is more important.
Ignoring the signs of mental illness can have catastrophic consequences. Drivers are in control of massive pieces of heavy machinery travelling across the country at 100 kilometres per hour.
Throughout my career I’ve seen the negative impacts firsthand, working in traffic management for the police force, crash investigation and advanced defensive driving training.
Nowadays, my work in fleet telematics for Teletrac Navman puts me in contact with the people in in the truck chain on the daily, and there is a lack of understanding in the industry that mental health is a medical condition and it can’t be just be ‘toughed out’.
Transport leaders, associations and industry groups should continue to do more to raise awareness, to crack through the shell and encourage truckies to be open and honest about their struggles.
It’s Not Weak to Speak
The hardest step is coming out and admitting something’s wrong.
It’s all too easy for people to bottle up their issues and suffer in silence, especially during isolated long hauls. The industry’s strongman culture hasn’t helped, with a stigma surrounding men who feel ‘weak’ for opening up. It’s not until they do, that they feel their personal cargo has been unloaded and a massive weight is off their shoulders. Speaking to someone or seeking help is the most brave thing you could do.
And it’s not just truck drivers we need to be concerned about: the behaviour of other people may also have a flow-on risk, according to a new initiative from The Suicide in Road Transport National Working Group that I’ve been involved in.
The announcement of the program highlights how “road traffic suicides are a particular problem for the heavy vehicle industry with drivers placed at risk of death, injury, and trauma.”
Sadly, this includes the occurrence of suicide by standing in front of vehicles. This causes distress for so many people, not just for their loved ones but other vehicles, passengers, first responders and witnesses.
When launching the project, the NRSPP stated, “there isn’t much research about suicides involving road traffic, and in Australia and New Zealand, they’re excluded from road trauma fatalities … They are widely regarded as under-counted. Estimates from different countries suggest between 1% and 10% of road fatalities may be suicides.”
We can’t underestimate the impact this has on truck drivers who witness or are involved in these harrowing events. It has far-reaching and long-lasting effects.
What Can Be Done?
We all have a duty of care to each other, and operators and managers have a responsibility to ensure drivers and other staff members receive training to encourage openness on mental health. The approach must be proactive and responsive, led from the top down.
You can start by appointing a caring and approachable person in the organisation to confide in, and work to spread posters, e-mails and texts so people know there is free 24/7 support available from services like Mensline, Beyond Blue and Lifeline.
Support offered to staff also needs to be more responsive. Research shows that when truckies do seek help, it doesn’t arrive soon enough. 92 per cent of mental health services provided in response to a worker’s compensation claim arrive more than 14 weeks later – a missed opportunity for early intervention. This pales in comparison to other health services like GPs and physios where assistance generally occurs far sooner.
Try to spot the warning signs by having regular mental health check-ins with staff to identify issues and recommend a doctor’s visit for a Mental Health Care Plan if necessary. As the Australian government has recently doubled the amount of annual Medicare-subsidised sessions with a psychologist from 10 to 20 sessions, there’s never been a better time for employees to check in with a health professional.
Mental Health can be difficult to discuss. If this article raises any issues for you, please see your GP or mental health practitioner. These crisis support services are also available 24/7:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
MensLine Australia 1300 789 978
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.