This year we have all been called on to put the health and wellbeing of ourselves and those around us at the front of our mind.
Whether it’s making hand sanitiser and masks part of our daily routines, doing our duty and getting tested or socially distancing, our industry has stepped up to take care of each other.
What we haven’t been talking about as much is mental health.
We often talk about the physical risks and demands of the industry — the potential for accidents, long and irregular hours, disrupted sleep patterns for example.
The fact is that pandemic or not, what isn’t talked about nearly as frequently is how tough life on the road can be on mental health and wellbeing.
This is a message which is especially important now, with the increased strains of things like quarantine, border restrictions and business disruptions.
Spending so much time on the road solo for days at a time, away from friends and family, can take an enormous toll.
Loneliness is increasingly being recognised as a key public health challenge, contributing to anxiety and depression as well as increasing the risk of chronic health issues later in life.
The nature of our industry means that truck drivers are particularly vulnerable.
I’ve heard from drivers that the uncertainty around things like border closures is making this problem worse.
It’s clear that we need to break down the stigma around mental health, particularly in an industry where more than 95 per cent of drivers are men, who are statistically less likely to seek help or talk about how they’re feeling.
In fact, according to Beyond Blue, the number of men who die by suicide in Australia every year is nearly double the national road toll.
It’s time that we recognised that mental and physical health and safety on our roads are all connected.
The good news is that having a conversation about mental health is not as rare for drivers as it once was.
What my team hear from drivers on the road is that increasingly, people are stepping up to have the conversations with their mates and in their workplaces.
Take the example of driver Bruce Dodds, who appeared in Whiteline Television’s recent mental health video, who has proudly worn his Beyond Blue armband for 20 years and uses it as a conversation starter.
Through this simple action Bruce is able to share his own story and start the dialogue with other drivers. These conversations are tough, but they’re important and anyone can take the initiative.
That’s why I’m so proud that the NHVR is investing significantly in a number of important projects that put mental health front and centre in our conversations.
One of the most exciting recent developments is the establishment of the Healthy Heads in Trucks and Sheds initiative (HTTS), which we are supporting through a $600,000 grant from the Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative (HVSI).
HTTS has brought together some of the biggest companies in the industry, including Woolworths, Coles, Linfox, Toll, Qube and Ron Finemore Transport, with the aim of being overarching umbrella body for the road transport and logistics industry for mental health and wellbeing.
HHTS has been structured with the participation of smaller operators funded by the larger founding industry members, a positive step as owner drivers and smaller operators are often left out of the conversation. We are also supporting a number of other initiatives through the HVSI that are currently underway.
The most recent round of funding saw the Transport Education Audit Compliance Health Organisation (TEACHO) receive $250,000 of heavy vehicle safety funding to extend the Transport Industry Mental Health Initiative: Steering Healthy Minds to more parts of the industry and the Victorian Transport Association receive funding for their project Integrating Mental Health Makes Good Business Sense.
Meanwhile, a number of projects from the previous round are ongoing. Injury Matters in Western Australia are rolling out the initial stage of their Mentally and Physically Safe (MaPS) on our Roads program, having completed their research phase.
The NT Road Transport Association has also received funding for their Working for a Healthier Tomorrow project, which is conducting research around the impact on drivers of being the first responders to road accidents.
Finally, the ACT-based OZHELP Foundation is using their funding to develop a mental health and wellbeing program that focuses on proactive early intervention programs and support services.
We all know that there’s no silver bullet to improve safety, but anything that we can do or industry can do with us to improve safety should be encouraged and supported.
Through working together across government and industry, we can make our industry safer and healthier across the board.
If you or someone you know needs help, you are not alone. To speak to someone 24/7, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.