Sharing stories of hope: Michel
For those struggling with their mental health, the world can sometimes feel like a dark and lonely place. But help is only a phone call away—and Operation Lifesaver’s (OL’s) suicide-prevention public-awareness campaign is reminding Canadians of that.
The Today is Better campaign consists of 13 poignant and hopeful videos (eight English and five French) featuring the personal stories of Canadians who’ve experienced suicidal thoughts, but found help. Michel Bouwhuis is one of those survivors.
Michel is a former paramedic who has struggled with his mental health for more than 30 years. He suffers from complex PTSD, depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. But he is proof that life can get better—if you reach out. Here’s part of his story:
When did you first start to struggle with your mental health?
I was working as a paramedic, and I got a call at night to a motor vehicle accident on the 401. There was a young woman trapped in a car. I tended to her wounds, but I could tell that she had a lot of internal damage. While I was waiting for the fire department to arrive, she turned to me, smiled and died. That prompted my first episode of PTSD.
Why do you think that incident is still so vivid for you?
Because I've never resolved it. I'm not trained to watch a person die. I'm trained to save lives, and I couldn't. Back in those days, the attitude among the first responders was: suck it up, it's part of the job. But when you bury bad feelings, they fester and they come back later―much, much worse.
Where did you find the support that you needed?
Well, I had mentioned years and years ago to my family doctor and to my psychiatrist that I needed to talk to somebody that had been there―to another paramedic who “gets it.” Then three years ago, I found an organization called Boots on the Ground
―a peer support group for first responders―and I called them. That has helped. By providing peer support to first responders by first responders, they gave me a way of talking about my problems and my traumas in a respectful, non-judgmental way. And they have said things―whether it was a fireman, a policeman, or a paramedic― that told me they understand. They get it. So that decreased the loneliness, and it increased the validation.
What would you say to a first responder who is struggling with depression or PTSD?
My message to another first responder would be twofold. One, remember, you're not God. You don’t make the final decision on whether a person lives or dies. The second thing is that you're human. You're in this incredibly difficult, demanding, heartbreaking line of work. Don't be ashamed to ask for help. It's a strength, not a weakness. It takes courage to ask for help and to be vulnerable.
If you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide, a trained responder is ready to listen. Call 1-833-456-4566 (Canada) or 1-866-APPELLE (Quebec), anytime day or night. And to hear stories of real people who’ve reached out for help, visit todayisbetter.ca.