Mental Health and Me – Clayton’s Story

1 in 4 Australians experience anxiety. This includes people who work in the transport industry, such as bus driver and transport scheduler, Clayton.

Clayton was pursuing his dream career working for a leading bus company when he noticed the pressures of an increasing workload starting to take a physical and mental toll. “I’d be running off to the toilets at work, hiding in a cubicle, slamming my back against the tiled walls to try and stop the panic and get some calm air in,” Clayton said. “It wasn’t pretty.”

He eventually reached breaking point. “I literally could not face going to work,” Clayton reflected. “I just knew it could not go on. One day I got on the bus to go see my GP. I was approaching Concord Hospital and I felt like I was having a heart attack; massive pain in my chest and down my arm. I got off the bus and wandered into Emergency and of course was seen straight away. My blood pressure was something ridiculous, around 200/110. They did all the tests and luckily it was not a heart attack, but recognised I was in a very bad way with stress.”

Clayton’s story is unique but not unusual. People working in the transport industry provide an essential service to our communities, but they face a unique set of challenges in their work. They are responsible for the safety of their passengers, navigating through busy streets and highways, and dealing with difficult passengers or unexpected situations. They often work long hours, sometimes with irregular schedules, which can lead to exhaustion and sleep deprivation. They have continued to do this during lockdowns and the ever-changing conditions of covid.

The nature of this work can impact our mental health, as it did for Clayton. The symptoms include panic attacks, excessive worry or fear, feeling restless or agitated, sleeplessness, muscle tension and more. Being able to recognise the signs in ourselves and others is critical for getting help and providing help.

Signal for Help is a new program to improve mental health in the bus and coach industry. While there are an increasing number of mental health resources available, Signal for Help has been developed by BusNSW for the bus industry. On the Signal for Help website, bus and coach drivers and operators can:

  • Learn how to identify signs and symptoms of mental health issues (including external factors that can affect our mental health).
  • Discover practical strategies to manage our mental health.
  • Explore a collection of relevant resources, online tools and links to support services.

Signal for Help is a free web-based resource for bus industry workers, made possible with funding from the State Insurance Regulatory Authority. It is also completely anonymous – no registration or login is required. A communications toolkit has been distributed to operators across NSW this month containing social media tiles, posters, postcards and suggested wording for emails and text messages.

At BusNSW, our hope is that Signal for Help will play an important role in our industry, raising awareness of these challenges and providing valuable help for anyone who needs it.

When he realised he needed help, Clayton spoke with his GP and was referred to a psychologist. He was diagnosed with mild depression and severe generalised anxiety disorder. “Seeing a psych was a very hard step to make,” Clayton admits, “because it went against the notion of solving my own problems and not failing.” However, once he took that first step, he found it a very rewarding experience.

When asked what he would say to others in the bus industry who might be experiencing mental health issues, Clayton says that despite what you may feel, it’s not being weak or a failure to recognise you need help. “Society has definitely improved with its support for mental health, but so many of us carry a personal stigma when we it is about ourselves. Our buses need constant maintenance to keep performing at their best; why should we be any different?”