Twelve emergency responders have died by suicide in the last 11 weeks, prompting a former high-ranking Toronto police officer to break his silence about the ravages of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the lingering stigma attached to the illness.
On Thursday, RCMP Const. Jean-Pascal Nolin walked into an Ottawa detachment and fatally shot himself. Nolan was a 10-year veteran.
And just last month Toronto police Const. Darius Garda also ended his life by suicide after struggling with mental illness. Garda was involved in the on-duty shooting death of a mentally ill man in 2010. Friends and family say he was never the same after that incident.
When Garda’s body was pulled from Lake Ontario, Kevin Guest knew it was time to speak up.
“That shooting just impacted (Garda) so deeply that I’m sure he just never recovered,” Guest said.
The now-retired staff sergeant worked with Garda at 51 Division, and the two even attended a PTSD group together.
“I think losing Darius really hit home for me. And I think to myself if I had come forward sooner I might have saved him. Who knows? Maybe I could have.”
Guest says living with PTSD can be unpredictable and haunting. “My brain was telling my body to die…Some days are better than others. Some days are terrifying.”
“It’s pure fear, shame, all of these feelings come with post traumatic stress,” he adds. “The fact that you’ve disappointed people, the fact that you’re weak.”
Guest says the things he witnessed and experienced while on the job began wearing him down emotionally, including child abuse cases and being shot at.
“We found a young three-year-old girl who was made to live in a box in her parent’s kitchen,” he recalled.
But one incident pushed him over the edge.
“In 2013 a guy had come in head to toe in blood because he had just beheaded his girlfriend…and something snapped. That was the night I said ‘I just don’t think I can do this anymore.”
He handed in his retirement papers shortly after that harrowing experience, but after receiving treatment he tried to get his job back. He says the stigma of PTSD derailed any plans of continuing his policing career.
Toronto police did not respond to a request to comment on Guest’s versions of events.
“When I started to get treated and the medication took effect, I wanted to go back and work,” he stressed. “But when it comes out this is what you’re suffering, you’re told ‘We feel you’ve outgrown your usefulness to the organization.”
After 27 years, his policing career became a painful, not-so-distant memory.
He believes if he was allowed back on the force it would have sent an optimistic message that recovery is possible. Instead, he says it serves as a deterrent to those who may be considering coming forward with their own internal struggles.
“I think a person going back and recovering and getting their gun back would certainly tell officers on the ground that ‘this is a path I could take.’ What happened to me is certainly a message to say ‘this is a path I do not want to take.'”
He fought to reclaim his job and his case went before a tribunal. He was awarded a settlement, but his policing career was over.
Today he’s the Director of Human Resources at Garda Security, where he hopes his experiences can help security guards who have faced traumatic experiences on the job.
When asked what he thought when he heard about the RCMP Constable’s suicide on Thursday, Guest was briefly at a loss for words. But then they came to him.
“I guess it could have been me.”
Guest says he wants anyone who is currently struggling with PTSD to contact him. You can reach him through email at firstname.lastname@example.org