At the time of writing this story, Keven Mitchell’s future in the career he’s so passionate about hung in the balance.
After a recent heart attack – his second in the last 12 years – the best the 48-year-old truckie said he could hope for would be a mandatory six-month stand-down as he waited for the all-clear from his cardiologist.
But unlike the many drivers who voiced their disapproval on our Facebook page of the newly released Assessing Fitness to Drive medical standards after a recent story on bigrigs.com.au, Bathurst-based Mitchell said the higher the bar the better.
“I understand that a lot of people online are jumping up and down about the new regime for medicals, but I’m for it,” said Mitchell.
“Potentially I could have had a stroke behind the wheel and wiped out some poor bastard’s family and survived and had to live with that for the rest of my life.
“I would campaign for this. As much as we need drivers, do we need drivers who are potentially death on the road? No.”
Mitchell also wants to open up discussions around the mental impacts for drivers who are medically-denied the chance to do the job they love.
“I’m dealing with that now, and I’m not dealing with it very well,” he said.
“I’m very lucky in this aspect in that I have a leatherwork studio downstairs where I sell custom leatherwork for truckies, I have a hobby.
“But how many drivers out there have nothing else to go to, nothing else up their sleeve? They go home and stare at the four walls and then the darkness sets in on them.”
Mitchell said he struggles with his own mental health, which is why he started the Blue Crew, a fledgling peer support network for truckies that was also inspired by the shock suicide of an acquaintance about nine years earlier.
“It involves calling up other drivers and asking them, ‘How are you doing?’
“I rang a driver the other day who was on the verge of a mental breakdown, and he was crying on the phone because he couldn’t cope anymore,” Mitchell said.
“He couldn’t cope with ‘the push’. He couldn’t cope with being away from home. He couldn’t cope with his kids not seeing him and him not seeing these kids.
“We spent three hours on the phone just talking and that was one aspect that helped me, as well as it helped him and I don’t know any other way around it.”
Mitchell said he’d been quietly gathering Blue Crew recruits for the last six months before beginning to raise awareness more on his TikTok trucking podcast, @thatstruckinpodcast.
“There was nothing out there for the younger operators and the younger operators are the ones who aren’t coping,” he said.
“When you got a 24-year-old B-double operator who’s running east coast Brisbane to Melbourne ringing and telling you he can’t cope, and that he’s got a problem with his missus, his kids, he’s obese, he can’t get his weight regulated, he can’t get a good sleep pattern.
“All these things and they’re breaking down on the phone to you. It makes me wonder what this industry is really going to do. Is this industry going to survive? Or is it going to be survived by old road pirates?”
Mitchell believes a big part of the problem is that the people who are running the industry are not really paying any attention to what is really happening to truckies.
“And then they’re asking more and more of us, and what they’re saying is that the technology is there so they’re putting in internal cameras in the trucks to monitor the drivers.
“They’re doing all these things, but we’re not fixing the real problem. We’re not addressing the real issues. We’re putting Band-Aids over Band-Aids and hoping the blood won’t come out. Yeah, the blood just keeps seeping out of us.”
In a perfect world, Mitchell would like to see mobile health units visit truck stops, even if that only involves five minutes with each driver.
“Five minutes on the phone to somebody, to a driver who is in need, is amazing.”
Lifeline: visit the website or call 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: visit the website or call 1300 22 4636
Health In Gear: visit the website or call 1800 464 327