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Suicide hotline can be lifesaver for truckers

By Aprille Hanson
The Trucker Staff

6/6/2013

Editor's note: This column was first published in the June 1-14 issue of The Trucker newspaper on stands now.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to a friendly, down-to-earth dispatcher named Obie Wordlaw, who works for Central Hauling based in Little Rock, Ark., about a song he wrote called “Truckin’,” a countrified-ode to truck drivers. That article will be appearing in The Trucker this summer, so keep your eyes peeled for it – it really is a great song.

However, something struck me during our interview that just couldn’t wait that long.

When I asked him what was the craziest thing he had heard on a dispatch call during his 24 years in the industry, I was hoping to get a humorous story.

The answer was not funny. It was shocking. 

“I had a driver say he was going to commit suicide,” Wordlaw said.

I sat there silent on the other end of phone line as he explained this truck driver’s plight – he said no one loved him; nobody cared about what he was doing; some four-wheeler had cut him off earlier in the day, cussing at him like he had done something wrong; the shipper was rude to him.

The trucker was crying. Anyone would be under those circumstances.

Wordlaw stayed on the line with him for about 30 minutes and was able to talk him down.

It was an ending that thankfully didn’t include screaming ambulance sirens. But what happens to the truck drivers that don’t have someone like Wordlaw on the other end of the line?

That’s where organizations like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline step in.

Crisis counselors for the national organization are available 24/7, 365 days a year and can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The group also offers online chatting, called Lifeline Crisis Chat, available 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily, and a host of other mental health resources at its website, suicidepreventionlifeline.org. The organization is also active on social media websites: Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Tumblr.

Jeremy Willinger, director of communications and marketing at the Mental Health Association of New York City which administers the lifeline, said multiple factors can lead to depression like substance abuse, lack of sleep and constant stress.

“Certainly isolation is a big one,” Willinger said. “Whether it’s isolation from family and friends or community … A lot of every day stresses can feel compounded when you’re by stressed and cut off,” from everyone.

Stress. Isolation. The life of a trucker.

As many truckers say, their career is a “thankless job,” which can wear down anyone mentally.

“When you’re not recognized for your contributions in your role or career that can be a very upsetting thing,” Willinger said. “It all kind of plays a part in becoming risk factors that can lead people to be in crisis.”

According to Lifeline’s website, some key depression signs that drivers can spot in themselves or family and friends can recognize include:

·         Hopelessness, feeling like there’s no way out

·         Anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness or mood swings

·         Feeling like there is no reason to live

·         Rage or anger

·         Engaging in risky activities without thinking

·         Increasing alcohol or drug abuse

·         Withdrawing from family and friends

While the stresses of a career in trucking really can’t be solved, friends and family can make sure they’re a support system for a driver.

“I think one thing to keep in mind for anybody, truckers included, sometimes it could be as much as a friend saying to one friend, ‘I’ve been worried about you lately, do you want to talk,” Willinger said. “It’s really about establishing connections and keeping them strong.”

However, lecturing someone about the “value of life,” or giving “glib reassurance” isn’t going to cut it, Willinger said. But that’s why God put people like crisis counselors on this Earth.  

Drivers thinking about hurting or killing themselves, talking about death, dying or suicide or those engaging in self-destructive behavior could be in a suicidal crisis. This is when he or she needs to dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

“The first thing is to pull over and call,” Willinger said. “Our crisis counselors have all had people on the phone who are kind of close [to suicide] and the training program every crisis counselor goes through is an intense one and factors in what do you do for someone who is at that moment.”

“It [the hotline is] nationwide, so no matter what state you’re traveling through, you will be connected to a nearby crisis center,” Willinger added. There are 161 crisis centers throughout the 50 states.  

The call is toll-free and confidential.

“It’s not like your boss is going to find out and you’re not going to get fired,” Willinger said.

A counselor will talk to a caller about programs and services that can provide them with the help they need.

“As we say, there really is no health without mental health,” Willinger said.

Being a trucker may be a thankless job, but every person in this country has been touched by your career – few can say that in this world and even less are up for that kind of responsibility.

You are needed. You are loved. You are strong. The best way to show that strength is to ask for help when needed.

Keep 1-800-273-TALK (8255) in your cell phone because, as Willinger put it, “it’s better to have it and never need it than to need it and not have it.”

Pick up a printed copy of The Trucker at TA/Petro truck stops or call 800-666-2770 ext. 5029 for information about an at-home subscription.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at aprilleh@thetrucker.com.

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JB Hunt