What Courage Looks Like
By: Mark Lamplugh
Trish Buchanan is my friend. She’s also one of those people you used to read about in the Reader’s Digest column, “My Most Unforgettable Character.” When Trish reads this, she will shake her head and say, “No, no, this should be about public safety personnel and suicide, not about me.” You see, Trish, a beautiful blonde, a mother of two, a trusted administrative assistant in Connecticut city government, is also the widow of East Hartford (Connecticut) Officer Paul Buchanan, Badge No. 208.
Paul, East Hartford’s 2007 Officer of the Year, ravaged by depression, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, ended his own life at the police department building in March 2013. Was he in debt and in crisis? No. Had he made a career-threatening mistake? No. Drinking? No. Gambling? No. Divorce crisis? Not at all. Paul, who helped so many East Hartford citizens, was not able to find the help he needed. Before ending the unbearable suffering he endured, he asked Trish to make sure that no one else ever had to suffer again like he did. .
While Trish desperately sought help as Paul’s depression worsened, she was at a loss for where to look for resources. Public safety personnel have traditionally not trusted department-funded counseling resources, believing that seeking help in this way would be detrimental to their careers.
According to the Hartford Courant, then East Hartford Police Chief Police Chief Mark Sirois stated that officers “build a wall” to distance themselves from the ugliness they see regularly. In commenting about the suicide of another officer from a neighboring department, Sirois stated, “How many dead babies can you go to?” How many domestic abuse victims can you see? How many drug overdose victims can you see? How many teenagers can you pull out of a wrecked car?” Sirois said police officers must be able to decompress and recognize that talking about their troubles and emotions is not a sign of weakness.
The fact remains that we are losing far too many police, fire fighters and EMS personnel to suicide, depression, and addiction. The Courant mentioned the names of 7 other area police officers of all ranks who died by suicide around the time that Paul Buchanan ended his own life.
Public safety personnel in these perilous and violent times are being exposed to tension, stress, and physical rigors far in excess of anything experienced by past generations of heroes protecting citizens. The result can often be depression, despair, physical symptoms, PTSD, addictions which can include alcohol, drugs (legal and illegal), and even food. Trish Buchanan did not feel that enough attention had been placed upon suffering public service personnel. She decided to change that.
So, the year after Paul died, when most people would still be seeking direction and coming to terms with the death of a spouse, Trish organized a 5-K run/walk in memory of Paul called, “Believe 208” recalling his badge number. A portion of the proceeds go to Project Blue which makes mental health resources available to law enforcement families.
She had the support of many area businesses, current EHPD Chief Samson, and Goodwin College Criminal Justice Professor Katy Carbone. The community rallied around her and the result was a wildly-successful first-time event which Trish is replicating again this year.
Ask Trish about her efforts and she will brush it all off, putting the attention on public safety personnel. That’s how a hero thinks and what a hero does. She doesn’t consider herself a hero, but I do and so does everyone else who knows her.
As Trish says, “I just want to get the word out that this run is for first responders and it’s to help them and to break the silence about what they feel and the stressors they face.” The second annual race is scheduled for September 20, 2015. More information can be found here:
In the midst of Trish’s busy work schedule and the volunteer time she spends promoting wellness issues for law enforcement officers, Trish took the time to head down to Florida to look into a wonderful recovery program for public safety personnel.
The Station House was set up by first responders for first responders. Every recovery process involves feeling comfortable in opening up with others. At The Station House, public safety personnel who need assistance receive therapy ONLY with other first responders. They don’t have to share their pain and experiences with civilians outside the public safety community. Station House personnel understand first responders, because they are first responders
The Station House offers a holistic approach to recovery including group and individual counseling, yoga, nutrition classes, and exercise. Treatment also may include experiential therapies with art and music. Public safety personnel who experience stress, addiction, burnout, PTSD, or addiction need a well-rounded approach to recovery in all aspects of their lives. Art and music therapies can tap into areas of the brain which can allow people to express themselves and have proven extremely effective in recovery.
To learn more about The Station House:
I wonder how different the outcome could have been for Paul Buchanan had The Station House been available to him? Trish Buchanan will not be satisfied until the time comes when no other police widow has to pick up the pieces as she has.
Do you ever feel as though you can’t do much to change the world? Let Trish Buchanan change your mind. Trish, with her faith in hand, accomplished what the prophet Isaiah promised:
For those who grieve…
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
Trish Buchanan is what courage looks like.