MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS: The ATA wants to open up the conversation about this important issue.
MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS: The ATA wants to open up the conversation about this important issue. Kirstin Payne

Time to shatter this stigma

"YOUR friends help you as much as they can, but when you're staring down a bridge in the middle of the road and you want your pain to stop and know once you turn the wheel that'll be the end of your pain, that's the end of the road.”

For many people, that is a very confronting sentence to read.

But those are the words of Sydney-based truck driver and father-of-two Joe (not his real name), who shared the story of his struggle to deal with a nine-year relationship breakdown in a bid to shine a light on something "a lot of other people don't want to hear”.

"I've had a few dark moments (where) I've just felt like giving up, well what's the point, who is going to miss me ya know?”

While Joe said he had been thinking some "not real nice thoughts”, he wanted to be around for his young children.

Beyondblue workplace, partnerships and engagement general manager Patrice O'Brien said truck drivers were exposed to a range of factors that might affect their mental health, such as the mobile nature of work, long working hours, shift work, social isolation, physical health issues, limited access to healthy food and the impact on job performance.

She said there were a number of variables that were outside the control of the driver, however the impact of risk factors could be minimised through increasing protective factors in the workplace and supporting individuals if they were experiencing mental health issues.

"Mental health can be affected in multiple ways and there is no single best approach to staying mentally well,” she said.

Joe's relationship breakdown, which he blamed solely on the fact that as a truck driver he was working away from home six days a week, "shattered me in ways I didn't think it was possible”, he said.

"Constantly being away for six days (a week) was the nail in the coffin to our relationship. I've got one day at home and then I'm back out the door again, it takes a massive toll on the relationship at any stage and the kids, they don't see me or see me one day a week.

Joe said while he had mates who went through the same tough times that he currently was, and there were groups that offered support, he didn't think there was enough support industry wide for something "a lot of drivers keep bottled up because a lot of us try and deal with it on our own”.

"I have a mate who went through the same thing a long time ago and back then there was no help,” he said.

"I suppose there's a generational difference, people never talked about it because if you did you were weak and I think it's still partially that way inclined.

"If you talk about it a lot of other people don't want to hear you and say you should just get on with it. It's industry wide and there are a lot of blokes that are committing suicide over it.”

Joe's suggestion was an industry based support system that drivers could reach out to instead of "grabbing a short piece of rope and hanging themselves or something else”.

Beyondblue's Patrice O'Brien said in addition to looking after our mental health at work, research supported that eating healthily, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and avoiding harmful levels of alcohol and other drugs could help you keep your mental health on track, manage symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve your overall wellbeing.

She said from an organisational perspective, focusing on one risk factor in isolation was limited in being able to create positive outcomes for the individual.

Workplace factors can be modified with education and training around mental health awareness, personal nutrition and healthy lifestyle activities, providing access to support services, and education on self-care and supporting others, she said.

"It is helpful to have an understanding of the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety so individuals can spot them in others or themselves and seek support,” she said.

"If you notice any persistent changes in your thoughts, feelings or behaviour that are starting to interfere with your work performance or quality of life, see your GP or health professional for assessment and advice. Intense or prolonged stress can lead to depression and anxiety. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you can recover.”

Australian Trucking Association chief of staff Bill McKinley said they were working with Beyondblue to initiate a mental health and wellbeing strategy specific to the trucking industry.

"The strategy will ensure the trucking industry has the understanding, knowledge and skills to realise mentally healthy work places and the capacity within our workforce to recognise when someone needs support and guidance.

"The ATA is forming a dedicated mental health and wellbeing committee to drive this strategy development. We won't re-invent the wheel, there is a range of quality resources already available to employees and businesses, that have been developed by specialist organisations like Beyondblue.

"We will simply aim to break down the stigma, open up the conversation about mental health and promote the availability of these existing tools. Our primary aim is to give the industry the ability to implement programs that suit their businesses and employees to ensure that anyone who needs information or support gets it.”

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