The RCMP dispatcher on duty the night Justin Bourque murdered three Mounties and wounded two others is calling for more support for first responders coping with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lisa Rouse dispatched several of the RCMP members the night Bourque went on a murderous rampage in Moncton, N.B.
"It's been up and down for sure. There's weeks you feel OK. There's other weeks you feel stuck and you worry, Am I going to feel like this forever? It's really scary," she says.
Rouse suffers with PTSD and survivor guilt. She sometimes blames herself for sending the Mounties into the killing zone, but says help from friends and a therapist have been greatly beneficial.
"Sometime the feelings you have in your mind are all jumbled, and it makes no sense. You feel horrible. It's very negative. And when you talk to your therapist, they make sense of it all, you leave there and you're like, wow."
Rouse is in Halifax attending a PTSD conference put on by the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, a charity that supports correctional, emergency and military personnel. The organization was founded by the paramedic who responded when a 25-year-old Halifax woman, Tema Conter, was murdered in Toronto in 1988.
Fear of asking for help
The organization's executive director, Vince Savoia, says that so far this year 17 first responders and five military members have died from suicide in Canada, something he calls "heavily disheartening."
Rouse says she's open about her PTSD to try to assure others that it's normal to go through difficult days. But she says people have difficulty arranging to see a therapist and people often hide their feelings in the workplace.
"They ask a lot of you. They wouldn't ask the person with a broken leg to go run a mile. But I feel like that's what they do to us," she says.
She and other attendees say many don't get help and others, especially first responders, are worried that if they tell someone about their problem they will lose the job or the chance of advancement.
Jeff Morly, a retired RCMP officer and psychologist, says the stigma is fading, but it's still difficult for people to admit they're struggling.
"It still is at a very practical level a challenge if people do come forward and maybe have PTSD, depression, anxiety. Maybe they want to join a specialty team, the ETR or undercover operator," he says. "I hope organizations more and more are recognizing that people can be quite high functioning with their symptoms. But I think to this day there is a challenge that sometimes it could be career limiting."
Rouse says that reticence is true in Moncton among police, firefighters and paramedics.
"Because of the stigma there's a lot of work to be done. There's still a lot of people fighting it. They are hiding it. I know for first responders, for operators, it's hard for us to ask for help, because people ask us for help."