The Toll Transportation Can Take: Chair’s Plenary Features a Fireside Chat on Mental Wellness

On Wednesday, January 10, the Chair’s Plenary Session (a recording is available here) at the Transportation Research Board’s Annual Meeting featured a Fireside Chat with three panelists devoted to the toll that transportation construction can have on workers mental wellness: 

  • Dr. Sharareh (Sherri) Kermanshachi, Associate Vice Chancellor and Associate Dean for Research at Penn State Harrisburg 
  • Travis McCarthy, Senior Vice President and Transportation Group Southwest Regional Manager at Sundt Construction 
  • Peter Tateishi, CEO of AGC of California 

The panel acknowledged the heavy nature of the subject matter, but invited attendees to join in critical conversations about policies that impact worker mental health, such as low-bid procurement that may lead to a “race to the bottom” in terms of worker protections and wellness and ultimately risk unsafe outcomes and contribute to elevated risk for suicide. The panel also discussed the importance of paid sick leave as well as creating workplaces in which people feel like they have permission to talk about mental health issues. The panel shared information and statistics, including a finding by the CDC that the construction industry has one of the highest suicide rates in the country (second only to mining and extraction). Panelists encouraged the transportation professionals in attendance to create and share resources and to participate in Mental Health Awareness Month during the month of May and Suicide Prevention Month during the month of September.  

Earlier in the week, at the TransportationCamp DC “unconference” hosted by Transportation for America, one of the sessions was devoted to grief. Among stories about personal journeys with grief, attendees also shared about the heavy burden that work and advocacy relating to roadway safety can have as well. Several attendees remarked on coping with enormous amounts of guilt as well as a dearth of resources available for transportation professionals and advocates who focus their efforts on traffic injuries and fatalities. Families for Safe Streets is one organization devoted to the crash victim and survivor support services; a compilation of grief and trauma resources may serve as a helpful starting place.  

This week’s Fireside Chat on mental wellness at the TRB Annual Meeting’s Chair’s Plenary Session and the session devoted to grief at TransportationCamp DC served as important reminders that support and resources are available, but also that more clearly needs to be done to support the mental wellness of transportation professionals.  

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text 988 immediately. If you are uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can chat the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988lifeline.org. For more resources, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the CDC 

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