Patrick Swan’s Story – Constable, Waterloo Regional Police
In December 2008, I had reached the point where I couldn’t continue anymore. I had been struggling with my mental health for over 10 years, eventually diagnosed with PTSD and Bipolar disorder, and I couldn’t fight the demons anymore. I had stockpiled the anti-depressant medication I was no longer taking and swallowed all of them before bed. Several hours later, my family found me and while enroute to the hospital, I crashed. At the hospital, I went VSA. I was brought back and began a long journey back to where I am today; back to work full-time, looking after my mental health and most importantly, actually living my life – not simply existing.
When I started my career in 1994, there wasn’t any emphasis placed on looking after your mental health. When I found myself struggling after about 4 years on the job with a culmination of traumatic events, I didn’t ask for help or let anyone know. Coming forward and speaking to a supervisor just didn’t happen then and you were expected to suck it up and soldier on. I hid behind the mask that many of us do and got really good at hiding my struggles, or so I thought. Eventually, I sought help with my family doctor but found out that a family doctor isn’t a specialist for mental health matters. I thought the anti-depressants that were prescribed to me would work and they didn’t.
For approximately 10 years, I battled with my mental health. Countless prescriptions, many doctors and doing everything I thought to get better. After my suicide attempt in 2008, I continued on a downward spiral and found myself contemplating suicide again in 2011. My family got me into Homewood in Guelph where I would spend the next 5 months. At Homewood, I saw a psychiatrist each day and received the proper treatment and diagnosis. When I was discharged, I had the tools necessary and the support to begin the journey back.
I returned to work full-time in 2012 and currently work at the front desk of our headquarters. I had incredible support from our organization and made a suicide awareness video, which has been seen around the world. I have helped many members, and feel truly humbled that I can point them in the right direction and support them through their journey. My greatest joy has been watching those that I have helped help others when they are able to. We are all in this together. The wall of stigma is crumbling brick by brick with each one of us that bravely tells their story.
If you see someone struggling and ask them if they are ok, don’t accept the answer “I’m fine.” You know they aren’t or you wouldn’t have asked the question in the first place. Go the extra mile and if you don’t know what to do to help, ask someone. I encourage everyone to get a “check up from the neck up.” The best time to sit down with a mental health professional is when things aren’t a train wreck. Don’t let things continue to weigh you down.
There was a newspaper article in the Hamilton Spectator, written by a Hamilton Police Officer titled “For Ian’s sake change.” What struck me the most was the analogy that all of the trauma we experience are like drops of freezing rain on a strong tree. ‘Drop after drop. The ice gets thicker until, under the weight, the tree breaks.’