8 deaths so far in 2016: Canada’s first responder PTSD crisis


At least four paramedics and four police officers have killed themselves this year across Canada. And those are just the ones we know about.

“These are the suicides that have been reported to us that we are able to confirm,” says Vince Savoia, founder and executive director of The Tema Conter Memorial Trust.

Toronto Police Const. Darius Garda’s body was pulled from Lake Ontario Thursday, the third death of an Ontario first responder over five days.

A police source told Global News Garda had suffered post-traumatic stress disorder ever since he was involved in the April 19, 2010 shooting at the foot of Cherry and Commissioners Streets — nearby where Garda’s body was found.

Toronto Police Service Const. Alex Li tweeted “PTSD among first responders is serious. RIP brother Darius Garda.”

Garda’s suicide could have been prevented, Heidi Rogers says.

Rogers’ husband Richard killed himself in the summer of 2014. He, too, was a veteran Toronto police officer.

Both battled PTSD, Rogers says — for a dozen years, in her husband’s case, as small anxious mental cracks grew to psychic chasms.

“He was so desperate for help,” Rogers says of her husband.

She has pushed the Toronto Police Board to adopt a national standard for mental health issues in the workplace, but feels nothing has changed.

“I speak to officers almost on a daily basis in Toronto and they really aren’t implementing any changes. They’re doing nothing. They just want to look the other way.”

Preventing these deaths should start with officer training, Rogers said.

“There’s nothing done to prepare these people for what they’re actually going to encounter, and what they’re actually going to see,” she said.

“What they see is horrific. They see the worst side of humanity all the time.”

But other solutions are as simple as a staff psychologist for officers in need.

Rogers hopes others will come forward with their experiences despite the stigma they continue to face within their workplaces.

“The story’s always exactly the same,” she said.

“The isolation, being ostracized.. it’s always the same like, ‘we don’t want you any more.’”

Right now, anyone trying to get Workplace Safety Insurance Board compensation must prove their PTSD was caused by their work — a tall order for any mental illness.

Rogers and many others have tried for years to change that. A bill introduced by NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo sought to delete that requirement but languished for months.

Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn has been promising to act swiftly on first-responder trauma. Earlier this week he unveiled an awareness campaign and said he’ll bring forward new legislation when the legislature sits again later this month.

“Research shows first responders are at least twice as likely as the general population to suffer from PTSD, and that PTSD results in more suicide attempts than all other anxiety disorders,” Flynn told Global News at the time.

Rogers, for one, is tired of waiting.

“Enough with the talk,” Rogers said. “We should be telling the country, our first responders count. …

“For my family, there will be healing when we see that they’re taking it seriously and doing something to prevent another family from going through this, because it totally breaks my heart that another family is going through what we went through.”

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