OPINION: The mental toll of road transport

By: Warren Clark

Let’s talk about road transport mental health on the national agenda

OPINION: The mental toll of road transport
Drivers under 35 reported higher levels of psychological stress

We hear stories every day about road transport operators having a hard time of things, and sometimes it seems like the barrage of bad news confronting our industry is both self-perpetuating and endless.

Covid-19 took a toll on the mental wellbeing of millions of Australians – and truck drivers were swept up in that as new and confusing health rules made an already taxing job even more demanding.

No sooner have we returned to some semblance of normality than operators are under a whole new range of stresses.

Soaring inflation, continually disrupted supply lines, driver shortages, sky-high fuel prices and diminishing financial returns are generating a perfect storm.

Factor in ever-mounting red tape and a regulatory regime focused on punishment for even the most trivial administrative offence, and you start to appreciate how tough it is to be a truckie.

There has not been a lot of research into the physical and mental health of Australian truckies. Most of it has been undertaken overseas and one of the few Australian studies was published this year.

It asked 1,390 drivers about their hours of work and health. It found that 19 per cent reported having mental health issues.

While that’s roughly in line with the rate in the general community, one-in-two drivers also reported some level of psychological distress.

Perhaps surprisingly, this was more prevalent in drivers aged under 35.

Suicide has been shown as one of the leading causes of death in young transport workers, second only to external causes of injury, such as motor vehicle crashes.

Three years ago, the National Road Safety Partnership Program (a project by Monash University and the Accident Research Centre) released an important paper called The Effect Of ‘Suicide By Truck’ On Drivers.

It included the finding that just as Australian train drivers are exposed to ‘suicide by train’ three times a week, heavy vehicle drivers face a similar rate of truck-related self-harm incidents.

The bottom line is that truck drivers represent the second highest occupational group at risk of suicide, after construction workers. 

The impact of mental health on the building industry is long acknowledged. MATES is a charity established in 2008 to reduce the high level of suicide among Australian construction workers.

Our industry hasn’t bene standing still. In 2020, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator funded the OzHelp Foundation to develop a health promotion and assistance package for owner-drivers.

NatRoad commends the work of the NHVR and groups like The Healthy Heads in Trucks & Sheds Foundation.

But the time has come to up the ante and involve government and the community in a partnership to provide more support to drivers.

We need a national approach to what is a national problem.

If this article has raised personal issues for you, contact Lifeline on 131 114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 63.

Warren Clark is the CEO of the National Road Transport Association.

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