Drivers suffering in silence

By: Rod Hannifey*


OPINION: Our isolation has been a real bonus in these COVID times, but it often gives us too much time to think

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I got a call from a mate who said, with all the issues around now he was going to ring one mate a night to simply ask, "How’s things?" – and it was my turn. While we were both busy and coping (a personal observation of course and subject to outsider comment), I told him I thought it was a terrific idea and was he happy for me to push it a bit.

I explained that each Christmas I used to ring a few mates and ask how they had been going, but two years ago, out of a dozen or so blokes I rang in one week, two had been very close to suicide and it was only their children and thinking of them that had helped pull them through.

Each had got help, made a decision to get through it and had done so. That does not mean it was all fixed and rosy, far from it, and there are still things that affect them even now. But the terrible alternative that may seem your only choice when you look at it, from where you believe you might be at the bottom of a deep well, will mean you may not consider the help that is available. It will nearly always leave behind others severely affected by the choice you make. Who is there to help you?

There is a lot of work going on with driver mental health, but will it help? There have been large sums of money given to more groups and plans and initiatives than I can honestly fathom and/or follow. No one has all the solutions and we must truly hope all have the best interests of drivers in mind, but how do we make sure that it all delivers? Will those who need the help get it? Will the programs actually reach, let alone help, those who need it. We all know men, let alone truckies, are a hard group to help. Few will ask for it and, yes, part of that may well be they do not know who to talk to or how to get to them.

Then, of course, is having the time and availability to be able to make that contact in what others call normal working hours. What if drivers had access to a national number that could then direct them to the best agency, group or program, to help them? Do we need all of these groups to go and try and reinvent the wheel, talk to drivers, asking more questions, with many doing the same thing, whether by a different name or focus, but then not deliver what is needed?

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Isolation blues

Many years ago I was driving into a cotton gin near Goondiwindi and there was piece on ABC radio about (I think it was the St George Institute) doing a study into truckies’ mental health. I remember thinking at the time, this is good, someone has recognised the problem and perhaps, some help will be available to those who might need it. Yet, here we are, many years later, with the problem still an issue.

The Australian Trucking Association discussed it in Perth at its 2019 convention and I asked the question, how will you get to the drivers and will this actually make a difference?

We all must surely have heard of Lifeline and Beyond Blue, they have media and years of work in this field for the wider population, but must we start yet another group with more involved at the top than those who will be giving the help? Would we get more help to those in need if we tagged onto what is already available?

All I want is to see drivers get the help they might need. We all think we are 10ft tall and bulletproof, but no one is. The one thing many agree on is that our isolation in this job is a real bonus in these COVID times, but it’s often the one thing that gives us too much time to think, or even overthink, about the problems we all face. How do you deal with it yourself?

I honestly think my involvement with road safety, whether ringing and putting in a complaint about a bit of road, pushing for rest areas and/or green reflector bays and even this column, along with other media stuff and industry submissions, have kept me somewhat sane. Any constructive comments as to that diagnosis will be considered … thanks.

Listening to audio books has been another way I cannot forget, but at least remove from immediate concern, some of those things I simply can’t get fixed fast enough.

So to you readers, even if you don’t want to give your name, have any of these groups helped you and provided what you need, again, even if only for a mate of a mate? Have you struggled to find that help and if so, how do you think we can improve what is available? Then either contact Owner//Driver so they can collate your views, and/or then contact one of these groups and do your part to contribute. Tell them what you need and how you have not been able to find it. It may not have been available to you but you have at least survived to tell the tale.

So please, think of others who may need that help and make at least this small effort to try and ensure the next truckie who needs that help has some chance to get it.

 

*ROD HANNIFEY, a transport safety advocate, has been involved in raising the profile of the industry, conducting highway truck audits, the Blue Reflector Trial for informal parking bays on the Newell, the ‘Truckies on Road Code’, the national 1800 number for road repairs proposal, and the Better Roadside Rest Areas Group. Contact Rod on 0428 120 560, e-mail rod.hannifey@bigpond.com or visit www.truckright.com.au

 

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