Former truckie Dave Sweeney is undertaking a study into the effects of trauma and fatigue on mental health in the transport industry. PHOTO: Trudy Brown
Former truckie Dave Sweeney is undertaking a study into the effects of trauma and fatigue on mental health in the transport industry. PHOTO: Trudy Brown

Sharing your feelings doesn’t make you a wimp

"THIS is not turning truckies into wimps, this is empowering them to stay in the industry."

That's the view of Dave Sweeney, an ex-truckie who is undertaking a diploma in psychology from The Australian College of Applied Psychology and beginning a study into the effects of trauma and fatigue on mental health in the transport industry.

He said he would be going down a similar road to a study from McClain Hospital in Boston in the US, that looked at the effects on first responders.

Aside from another study being undertaken in the Northern Territory, Dave said there wasn't any research available on the subject in Australia.

"It's not a stretch to then imagine a person who sees one or two accidents and attends those would suffer some long term effects," Dave, who offers free counselling through is business Kintsukuroi Counselling, said.

"We don't know their present state of mind, family history and the pressures of fatigue can hit the guy too. This all adds up over time and the higher prevalence is up of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is right up there with veterans and law enforcement.

"Just about all truckies, if they see it happen they're out of the cab really quickly and they get to witness and see a lot of things normal people don't. They're not trained to see that and after it's all calmed down, no-one's talked to them and off they go again isolated in their truck where it can play on their mind."

Dave said it felt like he was opening up Pandora's box with this study, but said it "needed to be done to protect people in the industry".

"We can't have people being told 'if you can't do the job we'll find someone else' when the reason they don't talk is they're under stress," he said.

"This isn't turning truckies into wimps by getting them to talk, this is empowering them to stay in the industry.

"Things like RUOK day are great, but so is things like that young bloke's story encouraging others to speak, to not be afraid to pick up the phone - it's not weak to speak. I think that's an absolutely fantastic way to thing. It's okay to talk to professionals or your mates and it doesn't mean you're crazy."

Dave said he believed these things needed to happen in the industry in order to make it better for drivers: any accident in the transport industry needs to be investigated as a workplace accident, there needs to be a mandatory assistance program where everyone must go through a debrief before returning to work and if problems are found they shouldn't be penalised.

"One of the biggest stereotypes is that truckies are big and strong and that's what I liked about the young bloke. It's okay not to be okay and it's okay to talk to people about how you're feeling."

Dave will undertake his study as a part of a trauma unit in his degree.

"The whole 12 weeks will be spent researching trauma in the industry. When I come out of the other side of that, I will have something that can and will be published," he said.

"More importantly, we can use it as a tool to make an impact and help some drivers."

Big Rigs will follow Dave's progress so keep an eye out for results of the study later on in the year.