TORONTO –Twenty-three first responders across Canada – police officers, firefighters, paramedics, soldiers and corrections officers – have killed themselves since April, according to a foundation that’s made its mission to work with emergency personnel around mental health.
Seventeen of those 23 lived in Ontario, says Vince Savoia, founder of the Tema Conter Memorial Trust. One of them, Ottawa Police Officer Kal Ghadban, was found dead at police headquarters this past weekend. It’s believed Ghadban killed himself using his police-issued firearm. He was 43 years old, a well respected veteran of the force.
So what’s the provincial government doing? It’s promised a report – but, two years later, nothing’s been released.
When Global News first began reporting on suicides among first responders in July, the Ontario government said a report on recognizing and treating mental illness among emergency personnel – two years in the making – would be ready for release in August.
As of Monday afternoon, it hadn’t been released. “I’m looking forward to releasing this to the public within days,” Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn said in an interview Monday. Flynn said the report landed on his desk in May but was temporarily shelved when the election was called.
The report was commissioned in 2012 and includes a number of recommendations designed to prevent suicide among first responders.
“There are already some initiatives that are in play already, the office of the fire Marshall, the fire college, they’re implementing programs the OPP has a program in place now, and they’re all aimed at that early identification, removing the stigma, treatment,” Flynn said. “So we’re starting to get things done, but certainly there’s a lot more to get done.”
The Tema Conter Memorial Trust launched a suicide awareness campaign in September called “You are not alone” that provides first responder organizations with resources and peer support.
Ghadban is one of the most high-profile Canadian first responders to have killed themselves over the past several months. He was a well-recognized member of the Ottawa police, leading the recent investigation into a break-in at Justin Trudeau’s home.
And, just Monday morning, Savoia said, an unidentified Ontario firefighter took his life.
“I would like to see a lot more done,” Savoia said. “Sometimes I feel that, you know, when we request help, that message falls upon deaf ears.”
Savoia said he and police chiefs across the country are at a loss about how to stop the suicides.
Suicide and mental illness hit all sectors of society; in 2011, more than 3,700 Canadians killed themselves. It’s estimated that one in five adult Canadians will experience often debilitating mental illness over the course of their lifetimes.
But in professions better known for bravery and helping others, there remains a stigma around asking for help oneself, Savoia said. He hears stories about first responders being fired after a PTSD diagnosis, or being ridiculed by their colleagues.
“If they’re penalizing and terminating individuals that do come forward, then why would anyone want to come forward and ask for help?” he said. “How do we get people talking about this?”
If you, a family member or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, or you believe they may be suffering from severe depression and/or anxiety, there are many organizations available to help including the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. A lengthy list can be found here.