Help is just one call away
How a retired police commander is changing the narrative of mental health and healing
As Patrick Fitzgibbons sat on his brother’s back porch, his plan solidified in his mind. He was going to park his car a few blocks down the street and walk the rest of the way to the house. Then he was going to enter his brother’s shed. That was where he was going to do it. He was going to kill himself. He was done with life.
It was spring 2021 and the past two years had been a real kick in the teeth for Patrick, a retired police commander who had served his community for 23 years.
Like most cops, Patrick had experienced his share of loss and trauma as a police officer. However, all in all, he loved his career. The good outweighed the bad. Patrick was a college adjunct professor, author, podcast host, husband and father.
Then in 2019, Patrick’s father passed away. Patrick was close to his father. He mourned his father’s loss by drinking alcohol and isolating himself from the people he loved. He did not communicate with his wife about the pain he was feeling. This started to drive a wedge in their relationships.
Fast forward to December 2020, Patrick was up early, preparing to go to the gym with his stepdaughter. As Patrick got dressed, he heard his stepdaughter scream. Patrick rushed to her and discovered his son was unresponsive on the floor. Two decades of police work flashed through Patrick’s mind – trauma, death and loss. But this was different, this was family. Patrick shook off the initial shock and focused on helping his son. He called 911 and provided initial care. Once at the hospital, Patrick learned that this was an attempted suicide. Patrick’s son had consumed alcohol and a handful of Ibuprofen. He left suicide notes in his room. What was happening to his life? Patrick started blaming himself for what happened to his son.
Patrick needed to clear his head. He went on a short trip to gain perspective on his problems. When Patrick returned home, his wife told him she was filing for divorce. Patrick responded with more alcohol, more isolation, depression and suicidal ideation started.
At the time Patrick could not see his way out of his problems. In retrospect, Patrick said, “I would have divorced me too.” The alcohol abuse and communication failures made life with Patrick unbearable at times.
Patrick moved out and was staying with his brother. The alcohol abuse and suicidal thoughts continued. Patrick would call his kids, highly intoxicated, and tell them he was going to kill himself. Patrick was in a tailspin that had one of two outcomes – get help or kill himself. Then one night, drunk after a day of drinking, Patrick picked up his handgun and put it to his head. He was done. It was at this low moment, that Patrick decided to reach out for help. He picked up his phone and called a trusted person, his sister.
She rushed to the house and drove Patrick to the hospital. After a couple of hours at the emergency room, Patrick started having second thoughts. He knew the process of crisis holds. He did not want to be part of the mental health system like the general public. He needed something different. Something that was tailored to the unique culture and experiences of first responders. Patrick said the right words and was released.
The next day, equipped with his nationwide connections as a podcast host, he started making phone calls. He remembered someone talking about a place in Florida that specialized in serving the first responder community. He called Shatterproof, part of FHE Health in Deerfield Beach, Florida.
After the initial screening, Shatterproof staff told Patrick they believed they could help him. He felt a heavy, dark cloud lift from him. He began to sob.
At Shatterproof, Patrick was surrounded by first responders and military veterans. He participated in individual and group therapies. He dried out and started to think more clearer. The staff was amazing. They clearly understood the unique tribe of police, fire, EMS, dispatchers and military. Patrick felt safe and supported by the staff and the other clients being treated. He felt at home.
About two weeks into his in-patient treatment, one of Patrick’s buddies called him. He asked if he could tell the guys what Patrick was doing. The friend thought it would inspire others to ask for help too. Patrick said yes. Patrick told me, “I wasn’t afraid anymore.”
Shatterproof’s website explains its approach:
FHE Health and their Shatterproof program for First Responders employs evidence-based therapies, innovative medical care, and a comprehensive wellness program. These focus on symptoms of PTSD, among other mental health conditions, in order to help our first responders successfully manage their condition and/or achieve life-long recovery from drugs and alcohol.
Shatterproof is designed to help first responders overcome specific obstacles and increase their ability to manage emotions during stressful situations without turning to self-medication. Our medical team works to customize a care plan tailored to the underlying issues that contribute to substance use disorders. Patients in the program also meet with therapists whose experience is specialized to meet their treatment needs.
Our evidence-based, holistic treatment approach addresses every individual’s physical, neurological, mental, social, emotional and spiritual well-being. We also utilize a peer-support group model – to help improve our patient’s outcomes by placing patients together who have similar backgrounds. This allows patients to feel more comfortable, resulting in better outcomes.
As treatment continued, Patrick got an idea. He wanted to use his story to help other first responders. He wanted to end the shame associated with mental health injuries and inspire others to pick up the phone and call for help. Patrick already had the connections through his law enforcement career and his podcast. Patrick approached the staff at Shatterproof with this idea.
Today, Patrick serves as the National Outreach Liaison for Shatterproof. His responsibility is to spread the word about the remarkable work being done at FHE Health Shatterproof. Patrick is so committed to connecting first responders, dispatchers, and military veterans with help, that he continually gives out his phone number (303-960-9819) on podcasts and has it listed on his LinkedIn account profile for all to see. It is time to end the stigma and help our nation’s heroes heal their minds and bodies.
Readers can learn more about FHE Health Shatterproof by calling 844-423-3185 or going to their website at https://fherehab.com/services/first-responders/.
Readers can see my interview with Patrick here.