“I’m givin’ her everything she’s got, Captain!” (Star Trek, 2009, Montgomery Scott)

Or are we?

Somewhere in Canada, first responders respond to a scene finding a colleague who has died from suicide.

Somewhere right now a police officer, 911 communicator, corrections officer, firefighter, paramedic, nurse, doctor, and other first responders will be dealing with their own suicide ideation.

Through a combination of trauma exposure from their employment, life stressors compounded by work experiences, stigma, clouded personal perceptions of administration betrayal. Potentially cumilated along with a lack of information, knowledge where to turn and a lack of learned and effective coping skills that can assist in changing the perceptions in their operating systems in the brain. Generally, first responders contemplating ending their pain and emotional suffering with suicide ideation are often feeling isolated but maintain the perception that all is ‘ok’ in their world when asked how they are doing by wearing ‘the mask’.

Further conversations are being undertaken right now by many other first responders who are talking with the “Black Dog” or “White Wolf/Black Wolf” regarding how their loved ones, employer and the world might be better off without them being around any longer. Faith in their loved ones, employer, as well as themselves can be totally shaken or non-existent to the point where they actually trust no one. Suicide ideation and suicide attempts can follow.

What can I do?

“I’m givin’ her everything she’s got, Captain!” (Star Trek, 2009, Montgomery Scott)

Or are we?

After the suicide of a first responder, many more first responders are left to ask questions. Why did this happen? How did this happen? Didn’t anyone notice the signs?

What can I do?

Instead, this should actually be the question individuals, loved ones and organizations should be asking.

Organizations have responded with various mental health training awareness, employee assistance information, peer support networks, critical incident teams, wellness units just to name a few. Yet, we are still losing first responders to suicide.

Individuals who are new to recovery, can sometimes, with good intentions try to “recreate the wheel”. Assuming not enough is being done, they decide to voyage out to start their own crusade to change the culture and impact change by creating things that might already exist for first responders. This is done sometimes without looking first at what information, training, programs and organizations that are already in existence they could network and collaborate with in order to truly make desired changes.

Possibly this is the result of having so many A-Type people within the first responder world – as we all know that we can do it better than the next person. Just ask us! Yet, we are still losing first responders to suicide.

Instead, individuals and groups should be networking and collaborating with other individuals and organizations already in existence who share in their Mission and Vision. Family and loved ones of first responders should be pre-planning for not only traumatic events that can contribute to behavioural changes in the relationship with their first responder member. First responders and their loved ones should be pre-planning for the cumulative effects of trauma that can contribute to behavioural changes not only during active employment years but also their retirement years. It is better to be prepared, just like a Will, Power of Attorney and Personal Care can be effective if agreed upon before a tragedy strikes in the form of an operational stress injury.

Pro-active programs that Badge of Life Canada / Insigne de vie Canada currently collaborates with include some of these options available to first responders, such as First Eyes for family planning. As well as Walk the Talk for peer support training.

Shame & Guilt

“I’m givin’ her everything she’s got, Captain!” (Star Trek, 2009, Montgomery Scott)

Or are we?

When dealing with first responders exposed to an operational stress injury, many times they are juggling not only PTSD, depression and anxiety, but moral injury, sanctuary trauma, perceived injustice, administrative betrayal, as well as extreme feelings of shame and guilt.

The internal foundation found within our brain and spirit has sprung so many leaks allowing feelings of shame and guilt to pour in like wet cement. With no building forms set in place for our construction site known as our spirit. The result is a work of art that seems to have been brought into existence by itself without any artistic or building contractor assistance. This can lead to excessive feelings of shame and guilt within the first responder who will isolate even further. While continuing to trust no one else but the voice in their head which is sending faulty command signals by that point. This can lead to suicide ideation and ultimately suicide attempts.

“Deep shame is a predictor of suicide. We need to work on being better, but we must also forgive ourselves…and we need to learn to forgive others, too, especially if they have accepted responsibility and committed to change. No one deserves to die of shame.” (Dr. Jonathan Douglas, Director, Badge of Life Canada)

Communication, networking and collaboration are the key. As much as it can be difficult, family members, loved ones, colleagues and the employer must learn to have these tough talks when noticing behavioural changes within a member. In return, first responders with suicide ideation, need to have those conversations with their loved ones and trusted colleagues as well. Don’t wait until all of the cement has been poured loosely into the foundation from the concrete truck. The artist is soon turned to concrete under the weight of the wet cement. While the building contractor is unable to breathe either in their attempts to yell at the truck driver to stop unloading the cement into your foundation.

You must explore available options. Such as counselling and treatment with a mental health professional. Enrolling in a pro-active family plan like First Eyes . Finding peer support groups that works for you. Many are listed as resources on our website. Taking peer support training, like Walk the Talk. While assessing first responder programs that are currently available like those offered through our charitable organization, Badge of Life Canada / Insigne de vie Canada  –   Our Programs

Change takes time

“I’m givin’ her everything she’s got, Captain!” (Star Trek, 2009, Montgomery Scott)

Or are we?

Change takes time. Tons of personal bucket-work will be required. It happens slowly and in small increments.  Change is not free.  The cost of growth can be expensive and time consuming through the development of coping mechanisms, life skills, while developing positive post-traumatic growth. So many first responders are struggling. It can be due to a lack of skills, tools and structure.

Unfortunately, there is no ‘magic pill’. Too often we think it just can’t happen to “me” and we fail by failing to plan. Often we think we are cured with one good week and shouldn’t ever have these types of feelings again. This is often a recipe for disaster as the descent into the rabbit hole gets deeper each time. Thoughts such as, ‘I’m failing the program’ creep back into our brain.

You must be willing to put in the bucket-work, as much as the resources that should be available to assist you along the journey should also be readily available and easily accessible.

It doesn’t have to end with suicide. In fact, so many with suicide ideation can make positive changes to become productive members of their workplace and family.  So many survive and thrive versus those actually lost to suicide. This is definitely what we attempt to convene by mining ’emotional gold’ through our charitable organizational endeavours and delivering our programs.

Change can lead to the release and enjoyment of our actual personal passions. Change can lead us to a great awakening of our inner warrior spirit. Change can allow us to move from emotional numbness to actual feelings of joy and happiness. Allowing health and wellness to replenish our mind, body and spirit.

If we want others to invest in us…then we must invest in ourselves as well. Not only does your life depend upon this paradigm shift perception – but the interest gained on such personal investment to yourself and loved ones will be worth more than any monetary reward you could ever possibly dream about.

If you are ready to change the culture, then you first must be ready to change yourself. This will allow you to consistently move forward…always…regardless the size of the stride taken with each step.

You will discover that there are indeed, #StrengthinNumbers through networking and collaboration efforts towards a common goal.

Then, and only then, can we utter the words,“I’m givin’ her everything she’s got, Captain!” (Star Trek, 2009, Montgomery Scott)



About the Author: Bill Rusk, B.A., (Sgt. retired) is a retired 30-year policing veteran who has been involved in numerous serious traumatic events throughout his career with two separate police agencies. Bill has the dubious Canadian distinction of being the only modern day police officer, shot in the line of duty, where no suspect has ever been identified or charged. Bill has received numerous acknowledgements and recognition during a distinguished career. Bill has been heavily involved in police association work having served two-terms as a Director for the Police Association of Ontario (PAO) and the Ontario Police Memorial Foundation (OPMF). Bill is now the volunteer executive director for Badge of Life Canada. 

Note: photo courtesy of Dr. Jonathan Douglas, Director, Badge of Life Canada, and ultimate Star Trek fan)