Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why did you have to go and do a thing like that . . .

It has been awhile. I did not think the following was appropriate to post during the holidays. I think it needs to be said though.

Every time someone brings up that our profession has one of the highest rates of suicide, you might think: "Not our department. Not my friends. Not here. Maybe some department 500 miles away of people I don't know."

And then one day someone wakes you out of a dead sleep and sends you flying headfirst out of your little land of denial. It is your department. He was your friend. You do know him, his family and all of the co workers. You spend about two weeks wrestling the question that won't leave: "What the hell did I miss?" Along with a few others. "Why didn't he talk to me?" "What could I have done?"

Eventually you start to understand that it was their choice that they made. Maybe you'll always have those questions unanswered.

If you find yourself in that deep dark place that you cannot escape . . . please, I beg you, come talk to me. Please. Please talk to me.



  1. And therein lies one of the greatest problems of this profession. Despite all the ballyhoo about CISD and Crisis Intervention and Employee Assistance Plans (all of which cropped up after I bailed out 20+ years ago because I was getting suicidal), it is still anathema for most emergency services personnel to admit we need help coping.

    A big drawback is that no matter how "confidential" medical records may be, a payment record for psychological/psychiatric services finds its way to the insurance carrier, and from there to headquarters. The brass, feeling "they can't afford to take a chance," effectively sideline the staffer, ending promotional opportunities, denying development chances, and penalizing the worker for doing the right thing and seeking help.

    Plus, of course, the notation remains in the worker's file, ready to be used against him or her each and every time there is an IAB investigation, disciplinary hearing, court case, or other formal proceeding: "Isn't it true, Officer Jones, that you once sought psychiatric counseling? Is it not true that a psychiatric case should not be in such a position of power and responsibility? How can we know you didn't crack up again and use excessive force?"

    In addition, since your average psychologist/psychiatrist has NO concept of the real world -- never mind the world WE deal with -- he or she is liable to submit a report that makes the responder out to be some sort of monster, simply because the doctor has been safely cloistered in the medical library for the last 30 years and he/she doesn't realize that the 1950's world of June and Ward and the Beaver no longer exists (if it ever did).

    And the hypocrisy of the psychology/psychiatry world is amazing: the defendant is never, ever guilty, simply a product of his environment, a victim of discrimination, a helpless, lost soul expressing his anguish through murder, robbery or rape. But the police officer or firefighter or EMT or soldier or corrections officer is a abusive, sadistic, homicidal maniac, a power-hungry egomaniacal neo-Nazi bully, feeding off the vulnerability of his prey.

    It's amazing that anybody still wants to do these thankless jobs.

    I think we all knew going in that we would not receive a lot of public appreciation, and that the legal system would be our enemy, but I doubt many of us realized that our own agencies would also be our enemy. The senior brass -- those who (allegedly) worked their way up from where we are now -- are so busy protecting their own careers, reputations and pensions that they throw us to the wolves at the first sign of trouble, yet they also complain when we do not blindly follow their asinine dicates. They try to screw us in union negiations, they sell us out to the politicians, they belittle us at every opportunity, yet they wonder why morale is low. They lay off those who protect life and limb to save the jobs of deputy-assistant-under-commissioners of paper-clip-unfolding, yet they wonder why we don't support their aspirations. They decimate our ranks then blame us when injuries and crime rates skyrocket.

    I'm sorry for venting, BB. I'm gonna go get some coffee.

    Hang in there, you really ARE making a difference, even if no one admits it.

  2. One of the most insidious things about depression is that it silences its victims and actually makes it harder to seek help. Sometimes depression is a terminal illness. Try not to feel guilty about your friend's death. It's not that you weren't there for him, it was that he could not ask for help.

  3. Ditto to Anon above. Having been there (although not in your field of work), the first thing depression does is it takes away your ability to cope with stress and make good decisions about handling it. Decisions like, say, realizing that you need help and choosing a good place to get it. And then acting on that decision. The thought processes just don't go all the way through, they get derailed somewhere before they come to sensible conclusions.

    Depression meds didn't make me feel happy, they gave me back my ability to think. And then I could deal with life again. And then eventually I felt good again. After several rounds of this, I can now recognize when I'm going downhill and need help, but it's taken experience and several years of professional help to develop that judgment. Like Anon mentions, your friend may have gotten too deep into the cycle too quickly to recognize what was happening and get help.

    My condolences to everyone involved. It's so scary how a loved member of society can slip through like that and we never even know until it's too late.