Trending Topics

I’m here to tell my husband’s story because he is unable to

Please hear what I have to say.


PTSD affects many first responders. Symptoms include anxiety, depression, and more. (Photo/Public Domain)

By Uniform Stories

This is a guest post from Heidi Rogers, the wife of a Toronto Police Officer who took his life last year.

Hi, my name is Heidi Rogers, and I’m here today to tell you my husband’s story because he is unable to. On Monday, July 7th, 2014 I came home from work to find my husband had taken his own life.

My husband joined the Toronto Police Service in 1990. In September of 1994, he was patrolling on night shift. A call came over the radio involving a pursuit of a stolen car. The pursuit car was giving dispatch the normal information - rate of speed, location, road conditions, etc. My husband advised the dispatcher he was in the area and started heading over. A moment or two later the pursuit car went silent.

As my husband pulled to the last location mentioned, he encountered a cloud of dust and the unmistakeable tell-tale signs of a car accident. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw one of the cars was mostly white. And no longer than the moment it took to exit his car, he realized it was a police car. I’ll spare you the details of exactly what he walked into, but I could tell you the story as if I were there myself because my husband told me every horrifying detail.

Even though I wasn’t present at the car wreck, and we didn’t know it at the time, this incident would change the course of our lives over the next 20 years. It wasn’t this incident alone, but acted as a catalyst for the many calls, over many years that built up over time. Some were so grisly you probably wouldn’t even believe me if I told you. Others, just the run-of-the-mill homicides or rapes. I’m sorry, that sounds cold, doesn’t it? Calling these crimes “run-of-the-mill,” may seem strange, but first responders see so much depravity that sometimes a straight up homicide, like a shooting or stabbing, can seem oddly standard or even regular.

I don’t need to tell you my husband’s symptoms because I now know he was a textbook case. Today, I’d rather focus on the unique police culture that makes it difficult to overcome this disorder. I say “police” because that’s what I know, but I’m very aware that PTSD doesn’t only affect police. It touches fire, EMS, military and more. So when I say police, feel free to substitute the agency of your choice.

The good, bad, and ugly of police culture

It’s been getting some bad press lately, but as with everything, there is good and bad. The good part of police culture is knowing that you are part of a team, a family, if you will. You could hardly expect an officer to head out to patrol or respond to calls in the world I’ve just described without knowing every other officer out there has your back. With just a few words over your radio and every available car will come. They will drop whatever they are doing and race to your side. Every car in the area, every car in the division, every car in the district, even every car in this large city if you need them. How powerful is that?

You speak your own language, understand the inside jokes. You may even get to the point where you can spot another cop when you don’t even know them. Something about the way they carry themselves, talk, whatever you want to call it. It’s a unique culture, and with the culture comes a code. The blue line, as it’s often called, must be adhered to by all – no exceptions.
Regrettably, there’s another side to this culture and code. And it becomes ugly when it comes to matters of mental health. You see, I think – and this is only my opinion – that it’s very important for this particular group of people to feel strong. Any perception of weakness seems intolerable. I mean would you want to rely on someone who is perhaps preoccupied with troubled thoughts? Probably not any more than you would want a partner with a broken arm, someone physically unable to assist you in a fight. The difference is that for someone with a physical injury, accommodations are made. The injured officer remains in a protected environment, like inside the station on light duties until they are again up to speed.

But the same cannot be said for someone with a mental injury. We know, through science and experience, that these injuries can be repaired and the injured party can again become a vital and integral part of the team. All they need is time and professional help, just as that officer with the broken arm. However, in most cases, officers facing mental health issues aren’t given the chance.

This is the belief system that has to change. It’s not only deplorable, it’s just wrong. It’s outdated thinking that was never really based on reality or science or anything other than fear.

My husband was begging for help. Thirteen months before he took his own life, he was in a closed-door meeting with his superintendent and a staff sergeant. In this meeting, he opened up to his superiors about the years of anguish he had been suffering -- the post-traumatic stress, the severe depression, and intense anxiety. He hoped they would understand and make accommodations for him. Instead, he was emasculated, verbally abused, taunted, insulted, maligned and eventually brought to tears. Over the course of the next 13 months, he would continue to be bullied, provoked, tormented, and intimidated to the point of having serious panic attacks at work resulting in more and more time taken off sick.

Each time he returned to work he was given a new job function – always one he had no previous experience with – no training for and no help offered. This eventually resulted in a tremendous increase in his anxiety levels and the circle continued. He had tried to move to another unit for months but was always denied.

He was scheduled to return to work on Wednesday, July 9th, 2014 but on that Monday he left me a note saying “he could not face returning to work in that environment”.

This is the reality of police culture today and years past.

Even though we are aware of post-traumatic stress disorder, we still must face the daunting task of changing that ingrained belief that a mental illness somehow makes you less.

I know it isn’t easy -- change never is. But it can be done, it will be done, because it has to be done. Not changing will cost more lives, figuratively and literally. Not changing is not an option.

So I beg you. Stand up, speak up, fight for better treatment and better education.

I would like to end with a quote from the Dalai Lama. It speaks to me directly about the culture first responders face and that, particularly in my husband’s case, doing nothing would have been better than the treatment he experienced.

“Our primary purpose is to help others, and if we can’t help them at least don’t hurt them.” – Dalai Lama

Uniform Stories features a variety of contributors. These sources are experts and educators within their profession. Uniform Stories covers an array of subjects like field stories, entertaining anecdotes, and expert opinions.