MONTREAL, Que. – Patrick Forgues was introduced to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2013 — the day a man committed suicide by throwing himself in the path of his truck.
When the diagnosis came, however, he couldn’t find the support he needed. So he and his partner Kareen Lapointe founded SSPT chez les camionneurs (PTSD and truck drivers).
Since then, they have dedicated themselves to offering the attentive ear that he would have liked at the time.
“Psychological health remains a taboo subject,” says Lapointe. “Often people don’t want to talk about what they’re going through. When we created SSPT chez les camionneurs, that was kind of the goal — to provide a resource to talk to when things don’t go well in your truck.”
Forgues is a tall, big guy, physically imposing by many measures. But he has a natural ability to draw people in to share their stories.
“I think people are saying, if a man his size has been able to kneel down and show his vulnerability, so can we,” Lapointe says.
Some of those vulnerabilities have emerged against a backdrop of Covid-19.
It didn’t happen at first. In the early weeks, he actually found that truckers appeared to be more zen-like.
“During the lockdown, there was much less traffic and far fewer accidents,” he recalls. “We have a search unit and we are trying to find the drivers who have an accident. We could spot four or five a day before the pandemic, while we tracked down four or five a week during lockdown.”
But those who were hauling to the U.S. expressed worries of a different sort.
“Several told me that the sanitary measures were deficient. That the social distancing in clients’ offices was not respected, that they did not wear a mask and that they did not disinfect their hands. I think we were more aware here at the time and it took a month to see the situation change. Many were stressed to see that,” Forgues says.
When the hours of service regulations were relaxed due to the pandemic, he received calls almost every day from truckers who said they were exhausted.
“Some were burned out,” he says. “As weeks pass, it’s getting worse. Even though the hours of service rules returned [to normal], the drivers did not have the chance to recover. “
When the couple realizes that a truck driver is experiencing psychological distress, they refer callers to trained support network.
“People need to speak, to be guided,” said Lapointe.
“There are those who have worked too much because of the hours of service exemption, and others have lost their jobs, and that too is another source of stress. There is the anxiety that comes with financial stress.”
Forgues advises employers to take the time to speak with their drivers – especially these days. “It can be the owner, but also a dispatcher, an office worker, the janitor. If you are in doubt that someone is not well, take the time to sit down and chat. Sometimes just speaking makes a difference.”
“Seeing that someone is listening can make a big difference when the person returns home,” Lapointe adds.
SSPT chez les camionneurs is now working to set up a program of “sentinels” — people in the field who would be able to spot signs of psychological distress. The program would involve training not only for truck drivers, but also truck stop workers and others who interact with truckers.
The Labor Market Freight Initiative Support Program, announced earlier this year by Premier Francois Legault, is seen as a potential source of support for an initiative like that. But that was before the pandemic. Lapointe doesn’t know how the crisis will affect this program, or an initiative announced by Labor Minister Jean Boulet that was looking to offer compensation for work-related psychological illnesses.
“We hope it will be possible because the truckers are going to need even more support,” she says. “We will be there for them. The shutdown is relaxed, but the economic crisis begins.”
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