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Every week in Canada, PTSD drives at least one first-responder to take their life. So far in 2017, 52 first-responders have committed suicide in Canada, and there were 68 last year. The numbers are real, and they never get easier to hear.

This weekend I was shaken, once again, to hear of the suicide of a first-responder. Someone in Calgary. Someone I knew. Barry Dawson was a 47-year-old firefighter in Calgary, who sadly took his own life on November 11th, after a hard battle with PTSD.

I first met Barry about ten years ago, when I was working at a restaurant in Mount Pleasant in Calgary’s northwest, right across the street from the fire station Barry was working at. Him and his crew would order pizza from us often, and he was always the first one to start up a friendly conversation with myself and the other staff. Over the years, I would see his updates from time to time on Facebook, always with that friendly personality injected into them.

I did not know Barry well, almost not at all. I did not know of his struggles with PTSD, but it does not come as a surprise to me that he lived in this darkness, as so many other first-responders do. I know how crippling PTSD can be, having lived with it for the better part of my life. Trauma drove me to some of the darkest places imaginable, as it does for so many. In fact, many of the people closest to me, including members of our Breaking Free Foundation family, have had their own brushes with suicide.

What makes PTSD so prevalent for first-responders however, is that while many of us have trauma thrust upon us, these courageous people bravely face trauma every single day of their lives on the job. The most terrifying of situations that we strive to protect ourselves and our families from, first-responders deal with head-on, regularly.

I am heartbroken that the loss of another great person is giving us the opportunity to have this conversation, yet again. I am even more saddened by the fact that this tragedy was buried among a news feed that is full of trauma and tragedy. In fact, it was two of my friends who brought Barry’s story to my attention, after they had shared it on their social media channels. These two women are friends that I admire greatly, who are both first-responders as well. Just imagining the struggles they might be facing too, makes me wish I had the power to heal their pain.

But I don’t have that power. I do however, have a voice. And I am constantly reminded in the most obscure of ways, that every time I share something about PTSD, that someone is always listening or reading. So I hope that I am reaching someone today who needs to read this.

You are not alone.

Since working with Breaking Free Foundation and co-facilitating many of our monthly meet-ups, I have met more and more first-responders who are dealing with the struggles of PTSD every day. I know I speak for all of us when I say, we are in awe of the courage that all first-responders show and grateful for the vulnerability those have shown in sharing their struggles with others. Every time you share your story, you are helping someone else. When a “me too” moment happens in front of us, we know a light is opening up for someone who was living in darkness. In saying this, I also want to acknowledge one of our board members, Zoran Zelic, a first-responder who has shown amazing vulnerability at our meet-ups and has been able to connect with others who need to feel heard.

If you feel you are suffering from the effects of PTSD or trauma, I encourage you to tell someone. Reach out for help, or connect with someone you work with. If you want to take part in a conversation about PTSD and trauma, please join us at our next meet-up, on December 13th at The Commons. These are safe places to talk, listen or connect. You can also reach us via our website or on social media if you are looking for some resources in your area.

To all first-responders, thank you for your courage. I promise to never let your stories go unheard.

Me too. 

 

Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience, a definition that describes mass shootings and terrorist attacks perfectly. Violence, especially when it’s targeted towards a specific group, has very widespread effects. The survivors, family and friends of lost ones, and the world watching, will all feel the effects of trauma at this degree—such as we are from the tragic Orlando shooting this past weekend. The LGBT community, and the globe as a whole, is mourning and attempting to cope with the trauma of the largest mass shooting in US history. This past weekend, 103 people were shot in an LGBT nightclub on Orlando, 50 of them losing their lives.

As a result of this heinous act, millions of people around the world are reacting, both online and in their communities, to the deep pain of such an event. Individuals who survive trauma, or are exposed to it in some way can develop PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and it can have a damaging effect both physically and mentally.

The combination of life-threatening traumatic personal experiences, loss of loved ones, disruption of routines and expectations of daily life, and post-violence adversities pose psychological challenges to the recovery of children and families. [National Child Traumatic Stress Network]

Symptoms of PTSD can include:

  • Flashbacks, or reliving the trauma
  • Nightmares
  • Intense fear
  • Avoidance
  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
  • Guilt, worry or depression
  • Difficulty remembering the trauma
  • Hyperarousal
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Severe emotional distress

In addition to PTSD, there are other psychological effects this event can have on people:

  • Danger reactions: when violent events like this occur, there is an increased fear in people and the desire to be near loved ones is more imminent. It can be increasingly difficult for people if they are separated from loved ones as well.
  • Grief: there is no “appropriate” way to grieve, everyone does it differently, and there is no wrong way. Grief can be harder to deal with if loss occurs during a traumatic event.
  • Depression: this can occur with prolonged effects of trauma or PTSD.

In addition to meeting people’s basic needs, there are several ways to enhance people’s coping. Physical: Stress can be reduced with proper nutrition, exercise and sleep. Youth and adults may need to be reminded that they should take care of themselves physically to be of help to loved ones, friends, and communities. Emotional: Youth and adults need to be reminded that their emotional reactions are expected, and will decrease over time. However, if their reactions are too extreme or do not diminish over time, there are professionals who can be of help. Social: Communication with, and support from, family members, friends, religious institutions and the community are very helpful in coping after catastrophic violence. People should be encouraged to communicate with others, and to seek and use this support where available. [National Child Traumatic Stress Network]

Listen to your body and your emotions, and in general, if you are having trouble coping with the symptoms from trauma or PTSD, seek professional help. If you are dealing with the trauma of a mass shooting or violent event, immediate mental health resources are available in Alberta via CMHA Calgary. If you want to speak to a trauma-specialized therapist to deal with your PTSD or trauma symptoms, please check out our free Therapy Grant program.Keep in touch with us on Twitter or Facebook to learn more about trauma, the effects of trauma and how to cope with PTSD.

— Written by Amber Craig, BFF Chair 
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