Veteran driver Michael Suson came home one day and told his wife that a colleague had shot himself dead. The driver had suffered from depression.
Suson, who had been driving for over 25 years knew about truckers and their high incidence of depression – he also suffered its effects – but until about four years ago, he wasn't willing to discuss it. Like many drivers, he believed that it was unmanly to "give in" to depression. He also believed, mistakenly, that any drugs that might help him, might invalidate his CDL.
Truck drivers are in the top eight occupations likely to commit suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control. They suffer depression in numbers larger than the general public, too, but are reluctant to seek help. Suson's sister Sherry Dallas, who is older, understands why he and other drivers rarely seek help.
"Admitting that they needed some help, admitting they needed any kind of behavioral health help makes them seem weak," she says. "My dad along with Michael were very strong, big men. (Their now-deceased father was also a driver, an alcoholic and probably suffered from depression, she says.) Driving is what they wanted to do, and nothing was going to stop them. However, they were too big to admit that they had a weakness, an issue, a problem, or ask for help. By the time we realized what was going on with my dad it was too late. And I think that Michael losing a couple of close friends is really what helped him come to terms with, 'Okay, there’s an issue, and I’ve probably got depression, and I need to try to work on myself. But hey, how about the rest of the guys,' and that’s really what sparked his idea."
Suson's idea was to start a Facebook group page devoted to truck drivers, depression and suicide now titled Truckers For Truckers (Fight Against Depression And Suicide). "The page was created to give truckers and their families a platform to communicate within a closed-group environment with people just like themselves facing depression in order to hopefully draw them away from the thought or actions of suicide or bodily harm, to let them know they're not alone, to be able to vent without judgment and be offered a shoulder. Under no circumstances are there any medical professionals involved nor does the page try to profess any such services. Everyone is just ordinary everyday working-class folks trying to survive this trucking lifestyle," says Dallas, who is one of the administrators.
Currently, the page has 3,200 members. "Not just anyone can be in the group. If you are currently or formally a trucker, a spouse, widow, widower, close relative or referred by an admin then you can be accepted." The admins keep the group true to its mission. "If there are ever issues with members in regards to judgment, arguments, bad-mouthing or troublemaking … a member can and will be removed by an administrator," she says.
Suson had reason early on to believe that such a group could save lives. (He suffered a stroke several months ago, is partially paralyzed and has difficulty speaking. His wife Linda helped to relay the following story.)
"There was an over-the-road driver sitting in a truck stop parking lot talking on the group's page about ending his life. Michael got him to call and he was talking to him about different things, nothing in particular. He finally got him to say exactly where he was, and we got help to him, got him some counseling and he changed his mind after that. There have been several similar incidents. There was one here, local (Lawton, OK). I had been following his posts on our page, and several of us tried to get him to call one of us and he wouldn’t, but then finally he called my phone number. Michael was asleep, but I handed him the phone and Michael talked him out of it. While he was talking to him I was posting on our private page to another admin, and we got him some help before he did something drastic."
Not all posts are so dramatic. Many posters are drivers sharing their woes, seeking encouragement and exposing their problems in a safe environment with those who understand the pressures of being a driver. Sometimes posters are simply looking for someone who cares during a time when it seems that nobody does.
Dallas emphasizes that the group does not dispense medical advice. "We’re here to help drivers reach out to the people who they need to reach out to and get a medical diagnosis from their doctor if they're having issues that are affecting their work and family life."
She concludes: "The main thing that Michael has always says is that he just wants the group to be open. He wants every member to be able to reach out without judgment. Reach out, voice it, get it off of your chest, let it out before it just eats you alive. He says: 'Your demons will eat you,' and they will.'"
Linda adds: "Michael says he is very proud of the way that this Facebook page has expanded and lasted. We hope that every day we can reach out to somebody, no matter who it is, and be able to help them."