Train your team to avert mental health problems

Work-related stress and associated mental health problems such as depression is a growing concern across Australia, particularly for the transport industry where it is well-documented that workers are more vulnerable than those in other sectors to mental health problems.

Left unaddressed, mental ill-health affects not only the health and wellbeing of employees, but also the productivity of operators, underscoring the importance of identifying and averting potential mental problems before they arise.

Mental ill-health in the transport industry – particularly among drivers – can arise from the smallest of things, such as travelling for extensive periods of time, striving to attain deadlines, disruptions to sleep patterns, anxiety, loneliness and other emotional problems.

Having worked in the industry as an employer for more than four decades, I’ve experienced many of these problems firsthand and understand the importance of developing and implementing effective early mental health intervention practices to keep workforces mentally and physically fit.

The World Health Organisation has estimated that by 2030 depression will be the greatest health burden, costing the global economy up to $23 trillion by 2030. Nearly half of all Australians will experience a mental illness once in their lifetime.

According to a global expert on workplace health, Dr Tyler Amell, poor mental health in the workplace can directly trigger physical problems, heightening unproductivity, presenteeism and absenteeism.

The transport industry employs around 666,1000 people with a median age of 44 years, which accounts for nearly 5.2 per cent of Australia’s workforce, and has increased by nearly 13.9 per cent over the past five years.

In our rapidly growing industry, and with a freight task expected to triple by 2050, operators need to invest more than ever on health and safety.
There needs to be an overall increase in encouragement for operators and employees to look for the early signs of mental ill-health in their workplace, irrespective of whether individuals appear to be physically and mental fit on their exterior. 

According to VTA supporter P2 Group, who provide strategies that improve the culture, performance and effectiveness of organisations and their people, operators should incorporate positive mental health values and implement health and wellbeing programs and initiatives, and for them to be most successful, they require a high level of visibility in the workplace.

They further advise that by accepting all aspects of mental health, supporting work life balance through flexible work arrangements where possible, and providing access to services, resources and training, employers will help to prevent a work-related mental health condition developing or worsening.

As identified by the Victorian Workplace Mental Wellbeing Collaboration, establishing a workplace wellbeing committee with training from accredited providers is one practical, valuable and visible strategy for ingraining and promoting workplace wellbeing.

When developing mentally healthy work environments operators should ensure their strategies are available for employees at all organisational levels so they are equipped with the basic tools and skills they need to identify the signs of distress from not only themselves but their colleagues.  

Here at the VTA, we have fostered an active People Group with one of the key on-going themes centred around ensuring operational and associated business activities are focused on increasing wellbeing and improving mental health outcomes.

It was encouraging to see so many members attend the VTA People Group workshop facilitated by the P2 Group in April, which was focused on better understanding some of the key internal and external challenges affecting individuals.

It is very evident that operators and employees are making mental health and wellbeing a key priority – as reflected in the overwhelming turnout at the workshop.

Information about work-related stress and mental health problems is available on WorkSafe Victoria and SafeWork Australia’s websites.

They also provide comprehensive guidance for operators and employees to follow on how to recognise and manage ill-mental health in line with Occupational Health & Safety requirements.

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