Why mental health needs to be a top priority

Mental health is a significant issue for the Australian road transport, warehousing and logistics industries. With one in five truck drivers aged under 35 experiencing “severe psychological distress”, it is a more urgent matter for this sector than most. 

Managers and industry leaders need to put the same energy into mental wellbeing as they put on physical safety. Now is the time to act and improve wellbeing for all transport workers. 

Drivers spend quite a lot of time on the road by themselves. While driving, workers are left with their own thoughts and are often away from their families and friends for long stretches of time. 

Karyssa Morrell is the OHSE manager at Vintage Road Haulage and a 2021 Teletrac Navman Diversity Champion.

They must manage fatigue, carry heavy loads, adhere to strict conditions and be aware of other road users – all while meeting deadlines and delivering customer service expectations. 

These responsibilities make truck driving an extremely high-pressure job. As drivers are in such an isolated environment, not being able to talk to people regularly doesn’t help with processing and working through mental health challenges. 

While transport workplaces are increasing efforts around mental wellbeing, there is still room for improvement. Transport managers and industry leaders can all take steps, such as encouraging diversity and establishing good communication, to improve mental health and wellbeing for their employees.

Supporting mental wellbeing in the workplace 

The first step – and perhaps the most important – is being flexible and accommodating to staff. Working closely with drivers to talk about upcoming schedules will help them plan and prepare their life outside of work. By communicating with workers regularly, you can help them with any issues, proactively provide support or facilitate professional counselling services. 

Talking with team members not only helps manage upcoming schedules, but will also help managers understand each employee’s work life balance. Everyone needs a break and you can help staff understand the importance of taking a break away from the road, with peace of mind that this is supported and encouraged by their employer.  

Managers can also help raise mental health awareness by encouraging employees to partake in mental health programs. I’m currently involved in the NRL State of Mind Program at a grassroots club level – which aims to increase mental health awareness, reduce the stigma around mental illness and start positive conversations to enable people to get through tough times.

The program helps bring people together and allows our members to feel safe and comfortable with their peers.

It’s also given me more of an understanding of different ways to address mental health in the workplace and the various State of Mind initiatives. Having a community where you can freely and comfortably talk about issues helps employees feel supported. 

The role diversity plays 

While wellbeing support initiatives are becoming more common in the workplace, many managers and transport leaders have yet to recognise the important role diversity plays. This is why I’m so excited to work with the other diversity champions within ATA and Teletrac Navman’s diversity program. 

The trucking industry is still a largely male dominated sector. This can create a sense of exclusion for many, and makes people more hesitant to raise issues if they don’t believe they belong. 

People need to feel appreciated, accepted, and respected, no matter their age, gender, race, ability, or experience. When people feel supported and can approach you for support without fear of being ridiculed or rejected, they feel better about themselves, and their performance improves.  

Mental illness affects one in two Australians, so we all need to offer support in any way we can, whether it’s just listening, encouraging diversity, or facilitating professional services for more in depth issues. 

Australia’s transport industry can lead the way in raising awareness about mental health. 

We have an opportunity to create sector-wide support systems and initiatives that encourage conversations and support services for all operators and their employees, from drivers to workshop and administration staff. 

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