We train police and military how to overcome the challenges of being physically safe. It's time to show them tools of how to overcome the psychological impact and challenges from being in the field as an active duty officer.
Police and Military personal have a higher rate of suicide than the civilian population. Mark Bouchard (@MarkBouchard) is currently with Canada’s national police force, the RCMP. He was a SWAT operator and a medic who has developed a passion for mental health after suffering his own psychological injury back in 2015. Mark has taught dozens of mental health training sessions and spent seven years as a peer support member. His new book, Setting My Sights On Stigma: Thoughts From an Injured Mind, is an offering of information on how to navigate and heal from the psychological injuries from being on the front line.
Mark Bouchard (@MarkBouchard) is creating a course on police culture and lethal force decisions for The First Responder Behavioral Health Institute. His new book, Setting My Sights On Stigma: Thoughts From an Injured Mind, is an offering of information on how to navigate and heal from the psychological injuries of being on the front line. Mark is a father, mental health advocate, and active duty police officer in the Canadian national force.
“The reality is, everyone is different in their versions of the impact of trauma, whether it’s PTSD, depression, anxiety, they’ll be impacted in different ways, and different treatments can help them.”
– Mark Bouchard
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Mark Divine 0:00
This is the Mark Divine Show. It’s your host, Mark Divine. On this show, I speak to notable folks from all walks of life, including martial arts grandmasters, Stoic philosophers, motivational scientists and folks who help veterans who are suffering from post traumatic stress, like my guest today, Mark Bouchard. Marks a police officer in Canada with 15 years of experience. And he’s currently with Canada’s national police force, the RCMP, he was a SWAT operator and a medic, he’s developed a passion for mental health after suffering his own psychological injury back in 2015. Since then, he’s taught dozens of mental health training sessions spent seven years as a peer support member. And he’s just recently written a book called, Setting My Sights On Stigma: Thoughts From an Injured Mind. Mark is creating a course on police culture and lethal force decisions for The First Responder Behavioral Health Institute. Mark, thanks so much for joining me on the Mark Divine show. It’s really great to see you and to meet you and appreciate you doing this.
Mark Bouchard 0:53
Thanks a lot, Mark. It’s a real honor to get to be on the show.
Mark Divine 0:56
Yeah, yeah, we got a lot to talk about with your work with posttraumatic stress and recovery in law enforcement, and also in just this horrible issue of suicide, which both you and I are dealing with, or have dealt with and dealing with it in the SEAL community. Before we get into that stuff. Just give us a little bit about your background. You grew up in Canada, what was your childhood like? What were some of the influences in your life? What led you into law enforcement? YOu know, who’s Mark?
Mark Bouchard 1:18
Sure, I’d love to jump into that. I had a great upbringing. loving family, my parents are still together after 50 plus years, I was very into sports. And for me sportsman hockey, because I’m in Canada. So played junior hockey, played a little bit of college played a year in the Danish Elite League. And then the opportunity to join policing came up. And my passion really went from wanting to be a hockey player, which, you know I’m 5 ’10’, and was never really going to work out for me, to help people through policing. And I’ve really learned to develop a passion for that. And now, I’ve taken my experiences within policing, and I’m trying to help change a bit of the culture, you know, to prepare people for some of the challenges we face, because I think we’re doing a pretty good job of facing the danger and the physical challenges, probably kind of like what you guys have experienced in the SEALs. But I think we still have some work to do in preparing for the psychological challenges.
Mark Divine 2:07
Mark Bouchard 2:07
And personally, I experienced some, so that’s why I’m trying to share that to help reduce the stigma and to help other people prepare for it.
Mark Divine 2:14
What is policing like up in Canada? I mean, I have a general sense for what it’s like in the States. And that’s pretty different, I think. What’s the attitude? What’s the training like? What’s your mission focus?
Mark Bouchard 2:24
There’s definitely overlap. At the end of the day policing is about helping people.
Mark Divine 2:28
Most cops in United States, we think that’s their primary mission, the public probably certainly doesn’t perceive that.
Mark Bouchard 2:33
Yeah. And to be honest, like, I just finished my master’s in leadership recently, and actually was able to do some self directed studies. My main focus was studying police culture and the impacts on police officer mental health.
Mark Divine 2:45
Mark Bouchard 2:45
And I’ve sat in on lots of recruiting interviews for new cops. And you know what everybody says, they walk in the door, why do you want to be a cop? I want to help people. Unfortunately, often in the job, you don’t feel like you’re helping people. Because you’re dealing with so much of societal problems, and you feel helpless, you do go to the same call, the same house, same people with the same problems.
Mark Divine 3:04
Mark Bouchard 3:05
And we’re just going around putting out fires, and we can’t really deal with it. And a lot of times, society doesn’t understand police tactics and police psychology. But even like police use of force is a big topic, and especially the use of lethal force. But what they don’t understand is often we are forced to use lethal force to save innocent people, like there’s actually safety priorities, or used to be called priorities of life. And hostages and innocent civilians or above police. So often, people think, oh, the cops shot them because they don’t know how to de-escalate. And because of their confirmation bias, and all these other things, and what they don’t actually know is the psychological impacts on those officers. If you read a book, like Shots Fired, by Chuck Rylant, there’s chronicles about maybe 10 or 12 officers after their shootings, and multiple end up suicidal.
Mark Divine 3:51
Mark Bouchard 3:52
Personally, I have talked to numerous officers who have had suicidal thoughts. And we’re not educated about this, we’re not truly prepared for it. But when you look at the research, there’s a great study up here in Canada, that showed about 10% of members of the RCMP, which is our national police force, which I’m a part of, will have suicidal thoughts in a year. And about 25% will have that in their lifetime. But here, we prepare them for the physical dangers, but we don’t actually tell them that it’s the psychological injuries that have been killing more police officers for all these years.
Mark Divine 4:25
Mark Bouchard 4:25
And then it’s amplified because the public doesn’t understand. Again, I’ve spent 10 years on what we call an emergency response team, which is the same as a SWAT team.
Mark Divine 4:33
Mark Bouchard 4:34
That’s what we are up here. So I obviously know a lot of officers who’ve been through, you know, officer involved shootings. And for some of them, it can be such a severe traumatic experience that really deeply impacts them, but often the public doesn’t understand. We’re just going out to try and keep people safe.
Mark Divine 4:49
Mark Bouchard 4:49
And unfortunately, the subject or suspect makes decisions and takes actions that we don’t get to control and we have to take action to keep people safe.
Unknown Speaker 4:59
Right, so let me just pause. So what you’re saying is the training that you go through really is the use of force, the escalation continuum of force, the SWAT tax and all that. And then what happens in reality is you get into a situation and the situation ends up calling, rightly or wrongly, or by judgment for use of deadly force against a civilian. And the aftermath, what you’re saying is first 10%, but over the career 25% of officers don’t have the psychological skills to process the killing of a civilian in the line of duty. And that leads to suicidal ideation. Is that what you’re saying?
Mark Bouchard 5:35
Sort of, I just want to be clear, it’s not necessarily because of that. So many officers who will experience suicidal thoughts will not have experienced officer involved shootings.
Mark Divine 5:44
Mark Bouchard 5:45
It is only a small percentage of officers who will experience that. And even some of the officers who’ve experienced officer involved shootings, some of what impacts them is unrelated. It’s the kind of emotional pain that we go to from intense suffering, we go to next of kin notifications, we do sex assault to child files, where horrible things happen to very innocent people.
Mark Divine 6:07
Mark Bouchard 6:07
And essentially, we can carry a piece of that emotional pain. And I know as a new cop, I didn’t understand that I would go to something terribly devastating, dramatic. And I thought I should just be able to take my police hat off, walk out the door, like nothing happened. And I didn’t know why for years, I carried that emotional pain around. And it really helped me to change my mental model that, hey, like I’m a person first and a cop second. Part of what I learned is actually your term of background of obviousness, which really, essentially, is mental models.
Mark Divine 6:38
Mark Bouchard 6:39
And I had to challenge the mental models that weren’t helping me. That was a big thing for me to be able to let go of like, it’s not weakness to have emotions, where people were meant to have emotions. And if the day comes, that we can go see terrible things, and it never impacts us in any way. That might be a sign that basically you’re a dad who can’t go home and tell your kids you love them because you’re turning off your emotions.
Mark Divine 6:59
Right. What do you think the role TBI might be playing in all of this? Traumatic brain injury we used to think really was the result of a serious blunt trauma type incident. But now we know can come from just simply like firearms training or ballistics explosions from being at the range and practicing how to blow something up with a xyz quarter, with explosives. Military are constantly shooting and blowing shit up. They’re getting this micro TBI, you know, over the course of time, this TBI that is unaddressed can have a really profound impact on one’s psychology, right, leading to distortions in thinking, anxiety and depression and just distorted thinking. So then you throw on top of that, the post traumatic stress of the unresolved emotional trauma, and you’ve got a really unfortunate, powerful cocktail there. HAs that been addressed or studied at all in the Canadian police situation?
Mark Bouchard 7:55
Ahh, It’s a great point. We’re actually doing some pretty awesome work with some studies where they have different biometric tracking, and they’re going to follow like a longitudinal study over the years around PTSD. I don’t know the specifics well enough to comment on that part. But I think you’re onto something. So personally, back to my hockey career, I experienced a lot of concussions. And then when I went to work as a cop, and then experienced trauma, I think those actually made it worse. So I eventually had to go see a naturopath and we did blood tests, and they found good hormones like your testosterone growth hormone were a tiny fraction of what they should be. And my cortisol, and my stress hormones were highly elevated.
Mark Divine 8:34
Mark Bouchard 8:35
And then they were able to say, hey, this is what’s going on. Like, you look in the mirror and you don’t look different. But there’s changes happening on a chemical hormonal level that you can’t see. So you’re totally right, like trauma even can change your brain, like how the shape of your brain, let alone the explosions. And now we start talking about healthy positive things to help with it and hurtful things. What we’re often taught is cope through alcohol, right? That’s within police culture. And I think it’s historically been within the military culture as well.
Mark Divine 9:01
Mark Bouchard 9:01
Which is the most detrimental thing you can do. Number one protective factor is actually probably your sleep, which now we throw you into shift work, totally dysregulated your physiology like I currently work two days/two nights, can’t design a worse schedule than that. We wonder why people can’t let their brain heal. Like, you know, sleep is our natural medicine. Understanding why my hormones were all messed up was because I wasn’t sleeping, and all I was doing was drinking, you couldn’t design a worse system for people to actually heal, then go drink and don’t sleep and see what happens. It’s not gonna be good.
Mark Divine 9:34
Part of my Doctoral program, just for one statistics class, a dataset that was taken by USC on shift workers in emergency room, which is, you know, not dissimilar than a first responder. What I found was that night shift workers actually had a statistically significant decline in optimism about their future. It makes sense right? But you know, to see that statistically self-reported that people who work at night or night shifts are odd shifts actually feel less optimistic, which is a sign of resilience and also just long term happiness. Wow, you would think that you got to do things to mitigate that because you know, that stuff builds up over time. And if your optimism is just being bled off, I mean, that’s really what suicide is all about right. It’s you just see no way out, you see no future for yourself.
Mark Bouchard 10:20
It’s such an important point. Because Dr. John Violanti, he’s one of the top academics retired cop on this topic, he writes a book called, Police Suicide: Epidemic in Blue. And he’s done all kinds of studies. And in one of those, basically, there’s like a direct correlation of night shifts and suicide. So like your rate or your risk of suicide goes up, the more nightshifts you work, irregardless of other factors. So I think those are indirectly kind of measuring similar things of the detrimental impacts, because we’re not designed to be up all night, twice a week.
Mark Divine 10:51
Mark Bouchard 10:52
And there’s a cost. But again, from learning sleep science, we can mitigate some of it. And I know for me, I experienced a lot of nightmares and my version of PTSD. And I had to change a lot about my habits, I had to quit drinking, I had to focus on sleep hygiene, I had to slowly control what I could control to try and get better to reduce the impacts that it was having on me.
Mark Divine 11:15
Right. Let’s say someone is a law enforcement or military guy listening to this. And they’re like, You know what, I gotta get this under control. And the VA is not helping me. What do you say is like start here, most important thing? Is it sleep? Is it exercise? Is it quitting drinking?Let’s walk us through some sort of path that to recovery.
Mark Bouchard 11:33
Basically, the way my book is set up is I have chapters on all these different topics. One of those topics is trauma, and essentially finding post traumatic growth. The number one tool that I write on that is take action. Because what happened when I was diagnosed with PTSD, I became a victim to that diagnosis, I went from feeling like I could do anything, that I was not capable of doing anything.
Mark Divine 11:53
Mark Bouchard 11:54
And I really carried a mental health stigma.
Mark Divine 11:56
Mark Bouchard 11:57
Which even as I finally got help, and it started to get better. But it’s so hard to do that. And there’s studies where basically, there’s like a placebo effect. So even if people take part in a study, and all they do is take a sugar pill that should have no impact, you actually see measurable improvements from just taking action.
Mark Divine 12:16
Mark Bouchard 12:17
And the reality is, everyone is different in their versions of the impact of trauma, whether it’s PTSD, depression, anxiety, they’ll be impacted in different ways, and different treatments can help them. And sometimes it’s formal treatments through a psychologist, it’s things like EMDR, or psychedelics or CBT, or all the that does lots of formal treatments. But for example, for me, one of my most powerful treatments was actually journaling, which again, is something you talk about, and I never would have done it, except I looked up to one of my mentors on our team or our SWAT team. And he told me how it helped him. And he said, just send me an email. He’s like, write it up. Just tell me how you’re feeling. Tell me what’s going on. He’s like, you don’t even need to hit send, the value is in the typing. And I actually sent it to him.
Mark Divine 13:01
Mark Bouchard 13:02
And we ended up communicating back and forth for a couple months around the time I went on stress leave, and I still have those emails. So what I’ve done is I’ve actually shared parts of that in the book, where I explain what it’s like what it was like for me, in my most hardest moments, I explain what it’s like to have night terrors, to have anxiety attacks, to have rage you can’t control. But then I it also kind of follows me on a bit of my journey of healing of saying how much journaling helped me, how much learning about sleep science, which back then I was learning it from Dr. Parsley, which I heard from you. It’s kind of cool to see back in these journal emails of how stuff like that got better. And actually one of them was stopping drinking, which was huge. In my journal I wrote, I haven’t had a drink in two days.
Mark Divine 13:47
Mark Bouchard 13:47
And I haven’t slept better these two days. I hadn’t slept that well in months. It was also so hard to do.
Mark Divine 13:52
Mark Bouchard 13:53
I woke up one morning, it’s nine in the morning and I went I need to quit drinking. And I actually said to myself, I can’t. And I’m a normally a non drinker who was drinking like crazy. And I had to set a micro goal, which again, I attribute to learning about stuff that people do to get through hell week and get through as Navy SEALs. My micro goal became one hour. I went well. I don’t usually drink till nighttime because that’s when the nightmares come. I’m like, I can go one hour. Okay, cool. Go one hour and then set a new goal. And eventually that turned into a day. And I celebrate it put a little whiteboard on my fridge. I didn’t drink yesterday, I won’t drink tomorrow. And that built into a week that built into a month. And you just take those little micro goals, whatever you can do you put that one step in front. It’s just huge for me to start healing and start moving forward.
Mark Divine 14:39
Yeah, that’s great. And I love that description of how do you change a habit that’s disruptive? You know, to do it in small chunks and to track it and to set little tiny goals. That’s great. And I agree with you alcohol really is it masks over the pain temporarily but in doing so you don’t really get to look at the pain. You don’t get to look at the trauma and so that’s the point of therapy, which journaling is self therapy, right, because you’re objectifying, you’re taking that trauma, you’re acknowledging it. And then you’re taking it out of yourself and putting it on a piece of paper. And you’re sharing it, at least with a piece of paper, or with the universe, or like, in your case, a friend, which is like sharing it with a therapist.
But if you’re just drinking, you’re basically pushing that stuff down, and you’re not taking a look at it, but then also screwing up your sleep, because one thing that really messes up your sleep is alcohol, and also just eating junk before bedtime. So the use of those go hand in hand, too, right? You have come drinks, you might have some junk food, or you get hungry, right, and then all of a sudden, you’re going to bed and all that sugar is spiking your cortisol and wrecking your sleep cycle, you do this day over day, and you never make that sleep up, like you’ve learned from Parsley, you go into sleep deficit, and then all of a sudden, all of your hormones get out of balance, everything starts to go south, right? Your anxiety goes up, stress levels go up, then exacerbates all of the problems. All these things are interconnected. There’s no one thing that is a condition, you have to really kind of look at this as a integrated physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual healing process. Right?
Mark Bouchard 16:09
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Most people when they write a book, often it’s more of like a memoir, autobiography. And they just tell their story. What I tried to do was write each chapter on topics that I know I needed to learn about that impacted me. Chapter Two is mental health stigma, chapter three is lethal force psychology, Chapter Four is emotional pain, and just how to change your mental models around those. Trauma, even suicide, which, you know, for me, I wrote about it because of my experience of the suicide of a loved one, I was the last person to talk to him. Because I remember that day it was my godfather, Bill, and I lived in a basement suite in his house. And he came down to speak to me, and we can tell something’s wrong. Just looking at someone the way they speak. They’re not themselves. And I remember the moment he walked away, and I thought man Bill didn’t seem like himself, I should talk to him next time I see him. And I never got the chance. You know, it breaks my heart I wish I had, but I can’t go back and change that. And I carried a lot of guilt and shame for that, you know, people sort out their affairs ahead of time. So Bill actually came in brought me this book, some book he’d never told me about. Again, he wasn’t himself just this really important you have this. When I look back after the fact, I could see oh, that’s what it was. I just didn’t know what then. And since then, I’ve had that hard conversation with numerous people when I worry about them. And you see, they’re off themselves, and there’s signs. And I’ve asked them, Hey, are you thinking of killing yourself? It’s a horrible question to have to ask. And it’s really hard. But it’s important to ask, and I have had people talk about thoughts of suicide and making sure we get them help. And part of it is to talk about it to normalize it.
As I said, with the stats earlier, and I’m sure it’s similar with the military,that basically, in my opinion, it’s often you’re just overwhelmed with pain in a temporary timeframe. And you mentioned tunnel vision, but the people’s vision constricts. And they see that as their way out. Again, in studying this stuff, there’s actually some really important research that’s happened and psychologists who’ve really studied this stuff, but to me, it’s the kind of stuff I think we need to share in police training and military training, we need to prepare people for the other dangers that often is what gets them and what they aren’t prepared for. Because I think we can change the outcome. If we start educating people better on these type of topics. I think we can change it in policing, which is again, my main push, there’s so much overlap in the other professions, whether you’re a doctor, a firefighter, a nurse, paramedic, a cop in the military, like we deal with a lot of very similar challenges of we’re asked to do near impossible things. And we’re asked to not have it impact us.
Mark Divine 18:38
Mark Bouchard 18:39
Whereas I think sometimes it’s going to impact us. But let’s teach healthy coping strategies. So instead of passing on through our culture that the next generation will just here’s a bottle, go get drunk and hope good luck. Well, let’s pass on journaling, or let’s pass on talking to psychologists, let’s normalize some of the experience so that we understand, in my opinion, I know it’s technically still called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But I see my experience as a psychological injury, and one that I’ve largely healed from.
Mark Divine 19:05
I agree with that, in fact, I think the whole idea of post traumatic stress is just a name. And when you name something, then you think, Oh, you understand it, but you don’t. But one of the challenges with the idea of posttraumatic stress is a lot of the stress is piled on to original trauma like childhood trauma. And I’ve had this discussion with a few Navy SEALs. And we’re in agreement, although there’s very little research, if any on it. Is that posttraumatic stress really is just the childhood trauma that was unresolved, that gets triggered and then layered on with the trauma of the military experience or the law enforcement experience. So just knowing that and knowing that you’re going into a field that’s going to layer on some significant trauma, wouldn’t it be nice if the training and the organizations have the sophistication to help the individuals deal with unresolved trauma before or as they’re serving, and then also to deal with the trauma in real time, immediately after an incident, that’s why in the military, they now are starting to staff psychologists. But the point is, when I was in Iraq, I would come home after an op and I would do box breathing. And I would visualize myself healthy and achieving my future goals, I would do the unbeatable mind practice that we’re in the early stages of development, but my peers who are the younger hard chargers in the platoons would come back from an OP, and they would decompress by getting on like, first person shooter games, which is horrible. It’s just no different than drinking, and they probably would have drank if they had alcohol in Iraq, but they didn’t.
Mark Bouchard 20:33
Yeah. Well, you described in video games can be one of these choices people make for basically escapism. Like, it’s our way to manage it, whether it’s alcohol, we’re numbing.
Mark Divine 20:42
Mark Bouchard 20:42
Some people it’s dropping, it’s gambling, it’s sex, it’s cheating. There’s all kinds of unhealthy coping strategies, we’re not really taught how to deal with it. And I think as some of our senior people have found healthier ways, it’s on us to pass that on to the next generation, to show them the healthier ways of, hey, these are real challenges.
Mark Divine 21:01
Mark Bouchard 21:01
But just like we teach them how to overcome the challenges of actually physically being safe, let’s show them the challenges of how to overcome some of the psychological challenges. Back to what you said about suicide. I think there’s such important lessons around that. So for me and what I wrote, in my chapter, I learned one of those lessons from someone in Kevin Hines. And Kevin Hines is a very well known suicide prevention advocate. Kevin tried to die from a suicide and he jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge with severely injured broke his vertebrae in his back.
Mark Divine 21:29
Mark Bouchard 21:30
He thought he wanted to die, he was overwhelmed with pain. And what he learned after leaving the railing before even hitting the water, is he wanted nothing more than to live. Because basically, people learn that wisdom from that hardship. And now he goes around telling that story and sharing that with people that, hey, you don’t actually want to die. It’s just you’re overwhelmed with pain. And there’s a different way of resolving that pain. Instead of choosing suicide and spreading it to everyone else, you can redirect your courage. The same courage you use to confront the physical pain and danger towards that emotional pain. And that’s such an important lesson.
Mark Divine 22:05
Mark Bouchard 22:06
I don’t know if you know who Dakota Meyer is, I’m gonna guess you probably do. He was a Medal of Honor recipient who’s spoken about his demons after he came back. And he actually also tried to die from suicide. He tells the story, he pulled over one day in his truck, took out his gun, put it to his head, pulled the trigger, but didn’t go off.
Mark Divine 22:22
Mark Bouchard 22:23
Then he checked, someone had unloaded his gun, once again, because of intuition. People could see, he probably wasn’t doing well, they’re worried about him. And all they did was unload his gun. Just like Kevin, immediately after trying…
Mark Divine 22:33
Mark Bouchard 22:33
He realized, I don’t want to die. Both Kevin Hines and Dakota Meyer are still alive today. And I tell those two stories in my book, because what I want to spread is that wisdom, they learned the hard way. And all Dakota would have had to do is rack around, and he wouldn’t be here anymore. But here he is years later, as an advocate about suicide prevention and mental health. And I want cops and again, people in the military, whatever profession to hear those kinds of stories ahead of time. You know, that’s part of what someone like Dr. Violanti calls for and his book police suicide epidemic and blue. It’s what some of the surviving family members of police suicides call for is more education, training, prevention on this stuff ahead of time. So that when officers do going into this emotional pain and overwhelmed that they at least have some level of logic of understanding of recognition. Like for police suicides, 90 plus percent are by firearm, which is the most lethal method and police officers have a 54% higher rate of suicide than the general public. And in theory, they should be lower. We’re passing psychological tests were employed, like we’re healthy fit people when we join, and then we’re just thrown into so much challenge. And I think there’s a comparable for you guys in the military. We hire amazing people who go do almost near impossible things. But then we can still do better to prepare them and support them through that at the end, or after they do those hard things. That’s a future that I really believe we can do.
Mark Divine 24:00
Yeah, there’s two things in my head right now. One is one of the things that causes people not to ask for help and to take the final act is shame. So they’re experiencing all this shame, which is from childhood trauma. It’s so exacerbated and so painful that they’re ashamed of their actions. They’re ashamed that they’re not healthy, they’re ashamed that they’re thinking poorly, they’re ashamed even that they’re thinking about suicide, and they’re too ashamed to pick up the phone and tell people about their shame. We got to destigmatize that and let people know, hey, this is okay. Right. It’s okay to feel shame. That’s normal, actually. And it’s worse if you pull the trigger, because now you’re leaving that stain on your family and you’re throwing everything into turmoil. And now..
Mark Bouchard 24:42
Mark Divine 24:42
You’ve got generational guilt, right? You know, I was thinking about this with my friend Mark Crampton, who was just a beloved friend of ours, one of our SEALFIT coaches, you know, retired Force Master Chief, ran the instructor training as a civilian at BUDs. I mean, this guy was like AJ squared away. There was not a thing in his behavior that would indicate that he was having suicidal thoughts, not one. Not even to his wife and kids. And then just one day, he just goes and shoots himself. And we’re like, what, how? Right, how? And it’s because of this idea of shame, like something was going on in him, probably both PTS and traumatic brain injury where he was ashamed of his future, he was ashamed of himself, and he was too ashamed to ask for help.
Mark Bouchard 25:26
Shame is such a key part of this.
Mark Divine 25:29
Mark Bouchard 25:30
And that’s what’s been found by some of the researchers. And we’ve sent him a few times. But guys like Dr. Violanti, there’s another researcher I quote in my book, sorry her name is eluding me right now. But her research was all around suicide notes. And that’s again, a very key finding, because shame isolates us. And isolation is a key part of what’s happening. There’s another researcher, Dr. Joiner, he proposes a model, where he describes essentially our fearlessness or our ability to overcome our fear as cops and as military, we overcome the fear of pain and danger and death, that actually allows us to overcome our fear of death and of suicide, which is a risk factor for us. We also propose two other things. One part is a perceived burdensomeness. So that’s where like, my family would be better off without me.
Mark Divine 26:15
Right, what you just said is where Mark Crampton was. Thinking that the family would be better off without him and because of some boogeyman in the future, like some potential degradation of his mental faculties. You know, I’ve heard many military and it’s probably the same in law enforcement, say, and this is a dangerous thought, you know, I would rather go out doing what I do as a warrior than being some decrepit old man, you know, where someone has to change my diapers. So that type of thinking can lead you into this place where suddenly you turn 60 years old, your hormones are out of whack, and you’re not thinking and your memory starts to go. And you’re thinking, Uh oh, here it is, I’m going into this slowly kind of getting Alzheimer’s or whatever, I’m just going to go out as a warrior.
Mark Bouchard 26:57
Yeah. And at that point, too, we’re often lacking one of the protective factors, which is the connection, which our team for me. I feel a tremendous sense of purpose and belonging. Everyday, I wake up excited, how can I get a little bit better, because I know I’m gonna have to go do some hard things. And I need to make myself better, so my teammates can count on me. And as I’ve watched guys leave our program, most of them go through depression, because you got to do amazing things with your best friends every day. And now it’s gone. So that’s really hard.
Mark Divine 27:26
Mark Bouchard 27:27
And for people who are now experiencing symptoms of trauma and all that, and they’ve lost both the connection and the purpose and meaning, you basically have to find a new one. And for me, like when I signed up for my master’s degree, I timed out. We had term limits in my old department. And I knew I had to leave. And I knew I needed a new goal, a new focus. And you’re not meant to just, you know, wander through life. And it really helped me because nothing is going to replace what I had. So rather than being off at the range, or some of the stuff we would do, okay, I’m going to sit and read books and study and just challenge myself in a different way, which again, was really positive for me. But I do want to go back to one thing, I was mentioned Dr. Joiner’s model. And you really hit on the perceived burdensomeness, which again, has been seen in some of the examples I have looked at, have been really apparent, and things like suicide notes people have left. But there’s another one, which is essentially isolation. That’s the second part. That’s what happens. And again, that’s strongly connected to shame. Because as we feel this shame, we naturally have this tendency to withdraw. And reducing stigma talking about this stuff, is what we can do. To me, it’s moving from an intervention based model, where we hope at the last second that someone’s going to call the suicide crisis line, like it’s good to have that we need intervention. And I’m not saying we should get rid of it. But to me, let’s take those resources and put them into prevention and education.
Mark Divine 28:45
Mark Bouchard 28:45
When I look at some of the books around like the survivors of suicide, the families, that’s part of what they’re saying is like, where were these resources when this person was struggling? There’s a book by Sarah Routhier, she’s a survivor of suicide. Her husband, Sylvain Routhier was a SWAT cop up in Canada, and he died from a suicide. And that’s essentially what she calls for, is like, Sylvain had probably had 1000s of hours of training. But it’s all about how to have a slightly faster draw, or how to do these tactical things and be safe from the physical dangers. But if we could just shift a small portion of that, to preparing you for the psychological impacts, we could have such better outcomes.
Mark Divine 29:22
Yeah, I totally agree. And I’m hoping we’re moving that direction. Of course, conversations like this, and the work of our Courage Foundation, you know, are helping and there’s other lots of veteran service organizations that are helping, but you know, the unit’s themselves, they need to get involved and provide that psychological support and training. I agree with that. I have a question. Get your perspective on this. Since my friend Mark committed suicide last year, around this time, we’ve had like five or six other Navy SEALs commit suicide. And I’m wondering, it seems to me that especially when a suicide is from a prominent and respected individual, that it can almost like pave the way for other people that are not the fence, to be like, if Mark can do it, then I can do it. Or if someone like Mark can’t handle it, then how can I possibly handle it? And so like a sympathetic detonation, I think a suicide can lead to others, when they may not have done it had that person not have done it.
Mark Bouchard 30:14
Yeah, you’re right, I forget the name of the researcher. But one of the topics in my suicide chapters, contagion and clusters. And there is research around that, actually, Dr. Joiner, he shows that two of the days with the lowest suicide rates were around when people really connected, one of them was 911, and another one was the Miracle on Ice. So one is for a positive and one was essentially for a negative, but it’s people coming together. But we have seen in the policing community times of suicide contagion and clusters where one happens. And then what we need is like, the term I think use academically is like a postvention protocol of what to do how to respond if and when it does happen. So that we minimize that, because I think what can happen is, that person is loved. And then in a way, they are praised for the good that they did, and we’re as a person. And then others can choose to emulate that, you know, you mentioned so many suicides in the SEALs. And first off, I’m so sorry for your loss. And to hear that it’s terrible. But I do believe we can have cultural change. So I’ll give you one example. But I know thing more within the policing community. But LAPD is an example, tried to make suicide prevention a focus for them. So in about a decade, they had, I think it was 37 suicides in comparison to 17 line of duty deaths.
Mark Divine 31:30
Mark Bouchard 31:30
And then they rolled out a no suicide training program. And as part of that, they made cultural change part of the initiative, they actually did like a suicide prevention walk, where this became something talked about when people actually were just like stigma reduction. And what they found for over two years, they did not have a suicide. So you went from averaging three suicides a year within that department.
Mark Divine 31:52
Mark Bouchard 31:52
To not having any, so you’ve essentially, you could argue, statistically that six lives were saved. And that takes courage. But that also takes leadership. And to me, in my opinion, our leaders are a bit disconnected from the realities of the profession. I know, we actually in your last book, you referenced Team of Teams as a book, and I actually think is an awesome book. But it really can show how sometimes what happens at that ground level, the ground truth is so disconnected from the people at the top, who kind of have the power to make decisions.
Mark Divine 32:21
You’re right. And we’re facing that in multiple domains, especially the United States, because our bureaucracies have just gotten so bloated. And the people who kind of ascend to the top of these things aren’t necessarily the most emotionally mature or caring people, right? It’s the Peter Principle. Gosh, I mean, it just seems like a real mess. You know, what you’re doing. And what I advocate is a ground up approach, right? The operators got to take care of the operators. Families have to take care of the families, right? It has to be a community based approach. I know they did it in LA, but with that succession, you would think that it would ripple across all police agencies in the United States and Canada. But it’s not, it’s almost like everyone’s in their own little silo and bubble and they have to experience the pain or have a leader like you come in, in order for any change to happen. Changes at SEAL training happen, because BUDs instructors make it happen. Unless it’s like death. And then suddenly, they add more rules or something. But really, the evolution of improving the training usually happens from the ground up, like guerrilla warfare.
Mark Bouchard 33:18
I actually tried to advocate for some of these changes both within my old organization and my new one, and I wasn’t able to make it happen. And my answer is, what can I change? What can I control, and I said, I’m going to do my best to write the book I needed as a new cop, was sharing the lessons I needed. And I don’t think this is unique to policing. I think most of this is very true for military and so many other professions. And I really do believe in a better future for all of us.
Mark Divine 33:43
Mark Bouchard 33:43
When we can get there. But you kind of asked like, why hasn’t culture changed, culture changes so slowly, that’s that’s just the reality. But when it changes, it changes because the experienced officers pass it on to the new people. And through my Masters, we studied a bit of organizational culture, some of the work of Edgar Schein, which is really impactful. And that, to me was like, This is why I want to go on this podcast to speak about it. I never really wanted to write a book, I wanted to share what I learned the hard way to help other people. You know, I’m lucky that I got some of this informally from some other awesome leaders who helped me and I just want to pay it forward and try and help more people in the future. And I really believe we’re going to get there in the next 20 years, we’re going to be in a much better place. But let’s not make it 20. Let’s make it two, let’s make it two months, like let’s just keep taking steps to accelerate that positive change.
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. So your book is Setting My Sights On Stigma, Congratulations, I know it’s a hard road to pour your heart and soul into a work like that. So..
Mark Bouchard 34:43
Mark Divine 34:43
Well done. And yeah, we’ll do whatever we can to support the cause. Both through Courage Foundation, which helps vets heal and we’re actually going to move into also law enforcement, not just vets and also through, you know, sharing this information to the podcasts and others. So, thanks very much for doing what you’re doing. And thanks for joining me today. Mark.
Mark Bouchard 35:00
Thanks so much for the opportunity. Mark. Keep up the good work. Thank you.
Mark Divine 35:05
Yeah, you as well. Hooyah!
Mark Divine 35:07
Such an important topic with Mark. Thanks so much for joining me. Psychological injury that military vets and also please servicemen deal with. Setting My Sights On Stigma, it’s due out in May of 2023. I think this episode is released later than that. So check out his works very important subject. Show Notes will be up on our website MarkDivine.com, our YouTube channel will have the YouTube video, you can reach out to me on Twitter @ Mark Divine, and on Instagram, Facebook @ Real Mark Divine. A plug for the newsletter Divine Inspiration which comes out every Tuesday. I have show notes from the podcast for the week, my blog, other interesting things happening that come across my desk and a book I’m reading. So I’m gonna MarkDivine.com to subscribe and share with your friends. Thanks so much to my amazing team. Jason Sanderson and Geoff Haskell and Catherine Divine whow help bring the podcast and the newsletter to you every week made incredible guests like Mark. Ratings and reviews are very helpful. So if you haven’t done so please consider doing it at Apple or wherever you listen. We have tons and tons of five star reviews and we’d like to keep it that way and get more so appreciate it, helps other people find the show and give us the credibility. Thanks so much for being part of the change you want to see in the world. Let’s do that at scale. And it’s only through our inner life, the way we think, the way we feel, our optimism, our abundance mentality and taking care of each other as part of a team, is the only when the outer conditions in the world will change. So let’s do that one person one day at a time. Until next time, this is your host Mark Divine, on the Mark Divine Show. See you next week. Hooyah!
Transcribed by Catherine and https://otter.ai