GFPD lieutenant discusses struggles with PTSD during “Lunch With A Hero”

Posted at 3:43 PM, Nov 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-27 18:55:41-05

GREAT FALLS 0 The impact of a traumatic experience can exist long after the actual event and it can have a devastating impact on individuals and families.

On Monday, the Dandelion Foundation, a group dedicated to fighting child abuse, hosted “Lunch With A Hero.”

The lunch focused on Great Falls Police Department Lieutenant Rich LaBard and a 2004 shooting that left him struggling to cope.

LaBard faced years of struggling with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which impacted his daily life and relationships before he learned to find help.

LaBard said trauma comes in many forms and he hopes his experience can help others find a path to recovery from abuse and its lingering effects.

“I think anytime you’re dealing with trauma in the family, what my story shows is what that looks like, and how that can manifest itself in the individual,” LaBard said. “When you’re dealing with child abuse or domestic violence, you’re going to see some secondary and tertiary effects ripple through the family and so I think it’s important that groups like this hear and see what the fallout of some of that stuff is.”

LaBard added that the effects do not necessarily end on the day of the traumatic event, but will probably impact people for years, even decades, afterwards.

Now, LaBard speaks regularly about the incident, and the importance of mental health following a trauma.

-Reported by Joe Huisinga/MTN News

(November 16, 2018) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is an anxiety disorder, brought on by trauma. It can occur from one event, or as a result of cumulative stress. There are three main symptoms: avoidance, re-experiencing the trauma and hypervigilance. There can also be physical symptoms, such as high blood pressure and rapid heart rate.

Those with PTSD can recover. Sergeant Rich LaBard of the Great Falls Police Department is living proof.

August 16th 2004 is a day that changed LaBard. The change wasn’t instantaneous, but rather an unfolding over years.

LaBard was first on scene to an active shooter call, where he was forced to leave a man shot in the chest in the yard, to proceed, as police training teaches, to a threat inside the house. There, he found a man who had just shot himself.

He recalled, “What I really had a hard time with after I went through treatment and got a grasp on what happened to me, was the guilt of leaving this guy, in my mind, to die, but I was ok with that when I made the decision because I was going to save these kids and I was either going to kill this guy or he was going to kill me, so that was how I was ok with spending his life to save the kids. When I got in the house, it was already done.”

He experienced personality changes, sleepless night, flashbacks and paranoia. Mental and physical symptoms escalated over years, all the while he didn’t connect the dots between incidents and PTSD symptoms. Suicide became an option to bring peace and solace to the constant noise inside his head.

“I hadn’t gotten to the point where I had made a plan, but I was certainly headed that way,” said LaBard.

There was no compartmentalizing for LaBard. The battle was intense, all consuming. Exhausted, with a high temperature, rapid heart rate, and heavy breathing, he couldn’t mentally handle what was happening inside him, and physically he couldn’t go on. Following a second flashback, he broke.

“The next thing that I remember is that I had a phone in front of me and a duty roster, which just could’ve easily been gun.”

He made a call and choose to get help. After receiving immediate medical care, LaBard spent two weeks in an intensive treatment program for uniformed officers in Vermont.

LaBard said, “I made a decision I wasn’t going to come back and just be quite, which is kind of a tradition in our culture and risk somebody taking their only life. If I would’ve just told them what happened to me and helped them understand they’re not the only ones. If I didn’t do that and somebody took their life, especially someone that I knew, I could’ve never lived with myself.”

So, he now shares his story. A real, honest, personal example of PTSD in someone who continues to do his job as a police officer.

LaBard often has assistance in these presentations from Senior Officer Justin Stevens, who is passionate about helping others and keeping post traumatic stress from becoming a disorder.

Stevens said, “Eats you up. Can’t control what’s happened in the past or what’s going to happen in the future, but we try to. If we can just work on being here in the present moment and being thankful for where we’re at right now.”

Men and women in blue are trained to be objective on scene, but they’re not without emotion. Behind the badge, each will respond differently to different types of calls. For those who go down the painful road of PTSD, there is light and a future.

“Hope people realize we’re people too. We have a life outside of police work. “Even though we’re cops, we’re human too,” said Stevens.

LaBard said, “Was it life changing? Absolutely. I’m still functioning as a police officer. Is it ever going to go away? Probably not. I deal with anxiety constantly. I have to be aware of what my mind is doing, what my brain is doing, because I can fall back into old habits.”

-Reported by Shannon Newth/MTN News