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Railroad Systems Initiate Suicide Prevention Efforts
Suicide is currently the 10th leading cause of death for all ages in the United States. While suicide by handguns and prescription drug overdoses are the two most common methods, death by train has also become a problem. According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) there are roughly 275-325 completed railroad suicides per year with additional 30-50 attempts. Not only does this method affect the loved ones of the deceased, it also can be extremely traumatic for railroad employees.
“Railroads are stepping up their efforts to reduce the number of suicides and attempts in their systems to avoid disruptions and distress,” says Scott Gabree, an engineering research psychologist at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, which is conducting research on rail suicides and countermeasures.
Union Pacific Railroad (UP) has assumed a leadership position in addressing the need for suicide prevention education and other prevention strategies. Mark Jones, UP’s director of employee assistance and support services explains, “We need to bring this out of the dark. Railroads need to lead the conversation.”
In August 2016, UP organized and hosted a two-day rail industry summit on suicide prevention that was sponsored by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (NAASP). Attended by representatives from Amtrak, the Association of American Railroads (AAR), Volpe center, and other industry constituents. The event included an expert panel and several presentations. Session topics included using epidemiology to understand rail suicides, creating a comprehensive and sustained workplace approach to prevention, and reviewing trends about mental health and substance abuse in the rail industry. Jones has since become a board member for the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.
“UP tries to emphasize to employees that they don’t need to be a suicide expert to have a discussion with or offer assistance to someone they believe is troubled and might put himself or herself in peril,” says Jones. “The railroad promotes a “see something/say something” mindset through its Courage to Care program and provides training on ways to recognize the warning signs of a potential suicide.”
One employee in Denver has already utilized his training and approached a woman who looked distraught standing near the tracks. He comforted her and provider her with materials on seeking help during a crisis.
“This isn’t a well-known problem. It’s a complex problem that needs to be dealt with effectively to try to solve it,” says Jones.
Jill Hamilton, Project Coordinator, The Kim Foundation
Jill Hamilton has been the Project Coordinator at The Kim Foundation since 2014. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and a Speech Communication Minor from The University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2009. Since working at the foundation, she has become an active member of the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition, Nebraska LOSS Advisory Committee, The Omaha Metro Hoarding Taskforce, The Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, Nebraska State Conference Planning Committee, is Chair of the Nebraska LOSS Teams Conference Planning Committee, and serves as the Outreach Coordinator for the Metro Area LOSS Team.