The Black Car Fund (BCF), together with the Independent Drivers Guild (IDG), observed Mental Health Awareness Month on May 7, by holding a press conference and announcing the official launch of an innovative new Mental Health and Wellness Program which is FREE for NYC’s For-Hire Vehicle (FHV) drivers.
Just weeks later, the IDG renewed calls for a full repeal of New York State’s congestion tax, which the guild says “places added financial strain squarely on the backs of struggling, low-income FHV drivers, suffering from depression, stress and anxiety.”
The professional driver suicide epidemic in NYC has shocked the world, and reporters showed up in force at Vital Transportation in Long Island City to cover the BCF/IDG press conference, which featured NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee – along with other elected officials, drivers and families affected by the industry-wide crisis.
The new, one-of-a-kind Driver Wellness program “seeks to destigmatize mental health care and takes a holistic approach to wellness by providing a suite of free counseling and case management services and classes to address and prevent crisis situations.” The counseling services are available in English, Spanish, Urdu, Bengali and Mandarin.
“Too many drivers across our city are in crisis – with nine suicides that we know of in a little over a year. We are launching this program to provide drivers with much needed support and to save lives,” said Brendan Sexton, Executive Director of the IDG. “At its core, this crisis is largely driven by the economic insecurity of the for-hire vehicle industry. At the same time as we stand up for fair pay for drivers and remedy the exploitation in this industry, we also must give drivers and their families much-needed resources and support.”
“This new wellness program comes at a critical moment for for-hire drivers, who desperately need a stronger safety net as they struggle with the stress of an extremely competitive profession, and a more and more demanding daily life,” said Ira Goldstein, Executive Director of the Black Car Fund. “We hope that this program will not just improve lives, but also save them. The Black Car Fund is proud to work with the Independent Drivers Guild and leaders like Public Advocate Williams to reach out and offer meaningful help before it’s too late.”
“As a mental health crisis continues to grow in the community of drivers that has been New York City’s backbone, it is clear that we in city government have failed this community of hardworking people just trying to keep up,” said Williams. “I’m glad that this new program will help provide some vital resources and support through a holistic approach that continues to destigmatize mental health care.”
“We cannot sit still as drivers suffering from mental health issues and financial stresses take their lives,” said Rodriguez. “I thank the Independent Drivers Guild and the Black Car Fund for all the work and support they bring to the drivers that need it the most. I will continue working with the Council to ensure our at-risk drivers receive the help they need.”
“Our motto has always been, the drivers come first, and always keep this in mind as we work to expand the benefits we provide to our covered drivers,” explained Berj Haroutunian, Chairman of The Black Car Fund Board and President of Vital Transportation Inc. “Being a for-hire driver in this city takes a toll physically and mentally, and both these issues must be addressed.” “Our motto has always been, the drivers come first, and always keep this in mind as we work to expand the benefits we provide to our covered drivers,” explained Berj Haroutunian, Chairman of The Black Car Fund Board and President of Vital Transportation Inc. “Being a for-hire driver in this city takes a toll physically and mentally, and both these issues must be addressed.”
Since the advent of the new Mental Health and Wellness Program, the IDG has provided grief counseling for families of drivers affected by violence on the job and fellow drivers who took their own lives, as well as trauma counseling for a driver whose passenger was murdered and crisis support for a driver facing eviction.
The multi-pronged Driver Wellness program focuses on prevention and crisis intervention; it is designed to meet drivers where they are – physically, mentally and in their native language. The program includes:
Weekly Driver Discussion Circles:Discussion circles function as an accessible and destigmatized entry point into the program, offering an in-person way to connect, raise concerns, share advice, and gain coping skills. Led by a clinical social worker, drivers share experiences and discuss practical steps to address on-the-job stressors.
Immediate Counseling Services for High-Risk Individuals: Therapy sessions and group and family sessions are available with a licensed counselor.
Case Management Support:Social workers assess the needs of drivers and their families, linking them to services like SNAP benefits, housing assistance, disability support services and more.
Creating a Community Network: Participants are trained to identify warning signs of mental health crisis and carry out mental health first aid – when needed – sending referrals to the Mental Health and Wellness Team for ongoing counseling.
Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis is urged to call the NYCWELL 24/7 hotline at 888-692-9355 for immediate assistance. Drivers and their families can sign up for free individual, couple, and family counseling, as well as case management support in obtaining resources at https://drivingguild.org/wellness/. The class schedule is available athttps://drivingguild.org/upcoming-classes/.
COMING SOON… FREE classes, covering topics to improve the lives of drivers – including financial planning, overall wellness, career skills and language proficiency.