There has arguably never been greater awareness surrounding mental health than there is at this moment in time. Campaigns such as Time to Talk Day, organised each year by leading charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, accounts from sportspeople and other public figures, and individual events by people with personal experiences of mental health struggles have all contributed to wider conversations about the topic, giving others the confidence to seek support or broaden their understanding further.

While these achievements are certainly ones to celebrate, gaps remain. Mental health support is widely known to be under-funded with services stretched to the limit. Our digital creator and mental health advocate, Dan Burton, explores why this and the still prevalent stigma surrounding mental health is having a detrimental impact on the haulage industry, and in particular, drivers.

A lorry in a truck wash, seen from back

Mental health and mental illness: a key difference

We all have ‘mental health’ to some extent. However, finding it difficult on a series of consecutive days is the sign of something more serious lying under the surface. One in four people will experience a mental health condition in a given year, and it can happen at any point in our lives.

I myself have struggled with mental health – namely depression and anxiety – for many years, stretching back to my time at university. I was fortunate to have a great support network around me, both on campus and back in my home city, which has continued to this day, however there are people going through similar struggles who do not.

In the transportation sector, it is thought that around four in 10 cases of work-related ill-health are as a result of stress, depression, or anxiety. Yet 95% of people who called in sick due to stress gave a different reason. More worryingly, HGV drivers are thought to have a 20% higher suicide rate than the national average.

This is a prime example of how stereotypes surrounding mental health are holding people back from getting the support they need. In a male-dominated industry like haulage, a fear of appearing weak or feeling ashamed is an added reason why individuals may be reluctant to speak out, but there are other factors to consider.

The impacts of mental health on lorry drivers

By the definition of their role, drivers are lone workers. Aspects of the support that may be offered to desk-based workers may not be accessible when parked up at a truckstop or a layby, leading to drivers having to ‘bottle up’ emotions, which soon takes its toll. Add in the sense of isolation and increased pressure from deadlines and even the actions of other road users and it is little wonder that HGV drivers find it hard to protect their mental wellbeing

There needs to be a shift in culture across the haulage industry that gives drivers – or anyone for that matter – a place to express their mental health concerns freely, without stigma or judgement. This is easier said than done, of course, as we have seen in other areas where there is an expectation to be ‘macho’, but it can start with education being passed to transport planners and managers on how to have a conversation about mental health. So often, these two groups are the main points of contact for a driver out on the road – giving them the means to not only identify that something may not be quite right with their colleague, but have the necessary knowledge and confidence to ask them about their feelings, is key to signposting a driver to the right tools to aid their mental wellbeing.

On that same front, access to resources that drivers can access while parked at a service station, layby, or truckstop needs to be improved and better communicated. Whilst video counselling and mobile apps are two great examples of how technology is opening avenues to mental health support, the typical working day of a driver may not leave much of a window for them to use these resources effectively. And then of course, there is a question of which ones will actually give the necessary help to a driver located in a remote part of the country.

A person talking with a counsellor

Mental health resources 

Helplines like Samaritans and the Shout crisis text crisis are a good initial step – the former has been visible at train stations to help prevent people taking their lives on the railways – and knowing that these resources, amongst others, are always available may go some way to alleviating mental health challenges encountered by HGV drivers. These aren’t the only answer – increasing the number of safe truck stop facilities and factoring time for a driver to discuss their mental health with a manager or other colleague as part of their schedule are other steps that policymakers need to consider.

Mental health isn’t the responsibility of any one group or individual. Everyone across the haulage sector and beyond has a role in ensuring that we support those who work tirelessly to keep our shelves stocked and our economy moving.

A lorry on a sunny day

For more information about mental health within the haulage sector, view our whitepaper, ‘Is mental health being talked about enough in the haulage industry?’ here.