As I sit down to write this holiday season, I am reminded of a friend I played cards with from time to time. He was by all accounts a happy go lucky guy. He always had a smile on his face, or a smirk I guess, because he usually had a good hand of cards.
When I heard the news that he had committed suicide, I was baffled. I did not see that coming at all. In speaking with “our” co-workers, I tried to figure it out. I didn’t know him very well so it was tough for me to understand with limited information. None of us saw it coming and we were unable to come up with, “Why?” I didn’t get to see a suicide note. I’m not even sure if there was one. Even still, I don’t think anyone will ever know all the reasons and the underlying reasons that led up to him taking his own life.
So, why write about something so sullen and sad? Because we need to talk about it. If we can stop just one suicide, it’s worth it!
You would respond to a call to assist on a suicidal party for work and try and help that person wouldn’t you? That is someone you don’t even know. Why wouldn’t you help your friend or partner?
Had I seen the signs? Would I truly understand his reasons? No.
This is one of those things that I don’t think I will ever truly understand.
We all signed up to do our jobs knowing that we were going to see some very bad things. So why are some people better at dealing with these high stress situations?
For as much as we are all trained the same and seemingly exposed to similar situations, we are all wired differently. There are obviously different levels of stress, from minor to moderate to severe. There are different perceptions as to the level of stress based on a person’s perspective and personality. So, why do some of us end up with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? Why do some of us commit suicide?
Post-traumatic stress is defined as a type of stress encountered at incidents that are, or are perceived as, capable of causing serious injury or death.
It’s not always the big event that causes PTSD. It can be several, smaller stresses encountered throughout a career. Seeing one dead body, or someone dismembered, could tip the scales the first time you see it or the 100th time you see it.
Another example could be the first time you see a small child seriously injured or killed. I know for me, my very first fatal involved an infant in a car seat – by far one of the hardest crashes I’ve ever had to do. I’m just glad I didn’t have children at that time in my life or I may have taken that one a lot harder. I am also glad that I was still in field training with another trooper.
No matter how tough you think you are, it can happen to you. We’re all human and our minds can be altered no matter how well you think you handle stress.
I am not going to write all the signs and symptoms of PTSD as it varies from person to person and could take up a whole page or two. If you are truly interested, do your own research; there are many resources online.
Instead, I will suggest that you become a good partner. If you go on a tough call, talk about it. If you are feeling different than you normally do, talk about it. We are not psychologists, but sometimes just being a good listener may be more helpful than you’ll ever know.
Get to know the men and women you work with. Understand when they are having a bad day and care enough to ask them how they are doing. I know, I know, you don’t want to deal with the drama. I get it. I am the same way. We all have our own lives going on. Can you live with it if you don’t ask?
If you are feeling like you are not yourself and don’t like the stigma of saying you need help, it’s OK! There are plenty of really good counselors out there that will help you and will keep it off the radar. We all need help from time to time. You’re not a robot. Nor should anyone expect you to be. We’re all wired differently, we’re human, and we’re on the same team.
I wish I had my card buddy back!
Drew Olson is a Minnesota State Trooper.