For years, mental health and suicide have been pushed to the side. But one of Campbell County’s largest employers is bringing light to the issue that has plagued the community for years.
“We’re talking about it, it’s not just putting it back to the side, this is bringing it to the forefront,” said Jason Snyder, a maintenance technician at Peabody Energy’s North Antelope Rochelle Mine in southern Campbell County.
Snyder and Corey Boyd, also a maintenance tech, were tasked with not just building a Caterpillar D11T dozer, but also painting it in purple and teal for suicide awareness.
Between the two of them, they spent the better part of four months working on the project. They recently completed it, and it’s set to see action in the coming weeks. In September, which is National Suicide Prevention Month, that dozer will be raising money for local suicide prevention efforts.
In 2022, Campbell County saw a record number of suicides, with 21. And so far in 2023, there have been six, said Ashley McRae, community suicide prevention specialist for Campbell County.
Dusty Rohrer, west maintenance team lead, had seen a couple of examples of other Peabody mines supporting a cause. He recalled a haul truck bed that was painted pink for breast cancer awareness. In Australia, some were painted blue to raise awareness of prostate cancer.
He wanted to bring some attention to NARM, and when thinking of a cause, suicide awareness jumped to the top of the list.
“A lot of people at this mine site have dealt with it,” Rohrer said. “It’s impacted their life one way or another.”
For example, Liz Friedt, a maintenance tech, and her husband Chad lost their son Zach Schirmer to suicide in December 2022. Everyone deals with it differently, she said, and she was able to take time off to grieve before coming back to work.
McRae said suicide has a ripple effect. It doesn’t just affect one’s close friends and immediate family. Coworkers also feel those impacts, even if they’re not on the same crew.
“It’s tough,” Rohrer said. “You try to be there for them as much as you can.”
“It takes a toll emotionally and physically, and it can leave people wondering, ‘Why?’” McRae said.
Mick DeRudder, the west side maintenance manager, said the mine is a big family. There are 1,100 employees and 400 contractors. He said the dozer is going to be a “focal part of NARM for a long time.”
Mine employees are writing names of friends, family members or coworkers lost to suicide on the dozer. Right now, there’s about 40 names on the dozer, and “I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface,” Rohrer said.
“There’s people come out of the pit wanting to put names on there daily,” Snyder said.
“Yeah, I definitely know a lot of the names that are on there,” Boyd said.
Rohrer didn’t give Boyd and Snyder much direction. They were getting ready to build a dozer from a frame.
He told them what colors they had to work with — purple and teal — and left it at that.
“I said, ‘Make these colors work,’” he said, and Boyd and Snyder exceeded his expectations.
“We were getting ready to paint it yellow,” Snyder said. “Dusty comes out, gives us the sheet, said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ I was like, ‘I think he’s serious, Corey. Let’s go back to the drawing board.’”
From the frame, Snyder and Boyd built a new dozer and painted it black, purple and teal.
“Everything was hand painted and reassembled, like what you’d do with a classic hotrod,” Rohrer said.
A QR code will bring people to the Campbell County Prevention Council’s website, where they can access different mental health resources. The suicide hotline, 988, also is painted on the truck, along with teal and purple semicolons, which have become a symbol for mental health awareness.
Sign Boss out of Gillette helped with a lot of the decals, Snyder said, and Glacier Products from Billings, Montana and Wyoming Machinery in Casper also donated toward the project.
McRae said she learned about the project after the dozer was painted.
“When I first saw the pictures it brought tears to my eyes,” she said. “It’s something that’s typically not talked about, and having the male population being the target is huge, it makes me very happy.”
In September, for National Suicide Prevention Month, Peabody will donate to local organizations for all of the cubic yards of dirt that the dozer moves. That donation amount is still being worked out. Rohrer estimated the dozer can move between 10,000 and 12,000 cubic yards per day.
For comparison, a city of Gillette garbage truck can hold 28 cubic yards of material, meaning the dozer pushes between 350 and 430 garbage trucks’ worth of dirt daily.
The Campbell County Prevention Council uses its donation funds to help pay for whatever a family needs after it’s impacted by suicide, McRae said, from cleanup costs and cremation to counseling, rent or hotel rooms. It also helps pay for counseling for those who are struggling with suicidal ideations.
Elizabeth Johnston, a maintenance support tech, spoke about the dozer and the cause at the governor’s mental health summit in Casper in April.
“It’s a hard subject to talk about,” she said. “It’s painful for a lot of people, and it’s embarrassing for people to talk about having problems.”
And in the company’s annual refresher training, there was an hourlong presentation on mental health and suicide awareness.
McRae is teaching suicide awareness and mental health promotion for the Mining Safety and Health Administration. This is the first year she’s done this, and she said she’s glad to see that these topics are being discussed in the industry.
“That is a population we see struggle a lot,” she said.
Although the fundraising won’t happen until September, the teal and purple dozer will be out at NARM every day before then, reminding every mine employee about the importance of mental health.
“It’s being talked about way more, and these guys coming up with this idea is just another classic example,” DeRudder said. “It’s a pretty good rallying cry for everybody out here.”
This is AMAZING! Great idea!
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