Saturday (May 2, 2015) the second Surrey firefighter in the last few months, was laid to rest as a result of his struggles with mental health issues. Firefighters and other First Responder agencies from all regions across BC, attended the service, to show their support to the family, friends and fellow firefighters, during this trying time.
The Chaplin, Lieutenant Scott Young from Coquitlam FD, led the Celebration in a way that was truly cognizant of the circumstances of the service. While the Celebration of Life was filled with good stories, there was no avoiding the “elephant in the room” which was the mental health issues that our member was challenged with.
Surrey Fire Fighters’ Local 1271 President Mike McNamara called upon the audience to ask that “we put an end to this disease we can all control, and that is the disease of social stigma. It’s time we recognize that an illness is an illness, and it doesn’t matter where it is in your body – your leg, your heart, your lungs or your brain.” Chaplain Young referred to depression as “the bastard that can be in us.” He spoke of how we all function well and continue our productive lives – until depression takes over and changes the way in which we make decisions.
The Celebration concluded with bagpipes playing Amazing Grace and the trumpet for the Last Post, which was provided by the Surrey Fire Fighters’ Pipes and Drums. Played in perfection and well appreciated by all there, but with all due respect, as a retired Surrey firefighter, songs I do not wish to hear again for a long, long time.
The loss of two Surrey firefighters in two months due to their struggles with mental health issues is numbing. There were counsellors that were on hand in the theatre. A proactive idea to provide the opportunity for those who want to express their thoughts and feelings.
The doors to WorkSafe BC, to start talking about post discharge follow-up for those with a work-associated mental health diagnosis, have been opened. Now the public “social doors” need to be opened. President McNamara said it best when he addressed the social stigma. Olympian Clara Hughes who suffered from depression created the “Let’s Talk” initiative which aimed at fighting the stigma surrounding mental health. It’s time for Firefighters and other First Responders to start taking care of their own members in the same manner in which they serve their community – with pride, honour and respect. It’s time to come to the realization that it is OK to say “I’m not OK.”
Educational awareness will, in all likelihood, become a key component to fighting and ending this stigma. I look forward to the day when I can share that this component has been developed and put in practice. With regards to educational awareness, the National Mental Health Week runs from May 4 to May 10. Join in and participate in the Canadian Mental Health Association’s 64th annual event. Go to http://mentalhealthweek.cmha.ca/ or use the Twitter hashtag #GETLOUD.