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ROAD TRANSPORT FORUM - We must address the suicide epidemic

Monday, November 18, 2019

I suggest most New Zealanders missed it, but back in August the chief coroner announced that 685 of us committed suicide in the year to June. That’s nearly two people every day of the year – 685 people who leave grieving families and friends behind; 685 people full of skill and talent that our country has lost. The 2018 road toll, while still shockingly high at 377, barely even compares to the waste of life we suffer through suicide. Per capita, we have one of the highest suicide rates in the world and the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world. This is New Zealand we are talking about. We’re used to referring to our country as God’s Own. Unfortunately, this was not the case for those 685 people last year.

I guarantee there would be very few people reading this who would not have been touched by suicide. We have all experienced the tragedy and suffering caused by it in one way or another and we know just how difficult it is to deal with. We also know that suicide, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues exist right across our community and within the industry. It is an issue we, as an industry and as a country, must confront head on. For our industry, who better to pass on the message than Australian trucking company owner and suicide prevention advocate Craig Membrey, who was a presenter at the recent RTF conference.

Craig is a true-blue, fair-dinkum Aussie, born into a Melbourne trucking family, who owns and runs a successful heavy haulage and crane hire business. However, what has made Craig well known across Australasia is a story steeped in tragedy. Craig sadly lost his son Rowan to suicide in 2011. Overcome with grief and blaming himself, Craig threw himself into suicide prevention advocacy work and, with the help of former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett, became an ambassador for Beyond Blue, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people with depression and anxiety. “Suicide is 100 percent preventable,” was Craig’s heartfelt message to our conference delegates. It sounds obvious, but it is a truism that is so often overlooked, especially when we confront the sheer number of people who do take their own lives. Suicide is not cancer, it is not inevitable; it is preventable, so let’s treat it as such. So, how do we go about preventing it then? Craig’s view was that we must seek help for those who are suffering and make sure they are surrounded by good family, friends, and work colleagues.

Craig was also adamant that if you are having problems you must address them rather than trying to bury them – share them with people you trust and seek help. I found it to be incredibly genuine to hear Craig discuss how upset he gets when he hears of another person taking their own life. Now Craig’s a red-blooded type of a bloke – but to hear him explain that it’s okay to cry and have these feelings, and that he still does all the time, is a message that I hope resonated with our conference delegates. Craig’s parting words are still ringing in my ears: “Make it happen, seek help, share your dream, because life is beautiful.” How true.

Now, an important request:
RTF has again commissioned the University of Waikato’s NZ Institute for Business Research to carry out the Road Transport Operator Cost Comparison Survey. The survey is absolutely critical to the continuation of RTF’s quarterly Road Transport Cost Index. The survey relies on the participation of operators to make it work. Without good participation numbers in the survey, the credibility of the cost index becomes questionable. If there are insufficient responses to the survey, the reality is that we will be forced to discontinue the index. The aim is to get at least 200 viable responses and we would particularly encourage the participation of those operators who regularly use and benefit from the index. The index is a critical tool for the industry to determine and justify minimum freight rates. This is evidenced by the number of companies that use it.

Transport operators can register for the online survey at www.management.ac.nz/register/rtfnz. All information supplied is on a strictly confidential basis to a professional independent survey team. Participating operators will receive their individual reports on an exclusive basis, with the more widely available sector and regional reports containing only aggregated data, which is useful for benchmarking purposes.